Vote on Illinois marriage equality bill expected Thursday or Friday

Reps. Cassidy and Harris before the vote. Photo: Tony Merevick.

Reps. Cassidy and Harris on the House floor. Photo: Tony Merevick.

SPRINGFIELD — In what will be seen as a landmark moment in LGBT history, House lawmakers are expected to finally decide on a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage on Thursday or Friday — potentially making Illinois the 13th state to recognize gay and lesbian nuptials.

After months of intense lobbying by both sides of the issue and a clock ticking down to the end of the session Friday, the bill’s chief sponsor Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) and other proponents of the measure are poised to bring victory to the LGBT community — that is if Harris has secured the 60 votes required for it to pass, as he has suggested.

Several LGBT rights advocates and supporters from organizations like Equality Illinois, Lambda Legal, the ACLU of Illinois and The Civil Rights Agenda watched House proceedings from the gallery balcony, anxiously awaiting a vote. Shortly after the start of session, longtime Chicago LGBT rights activist Andy Thayer was removed from chamber after draping rainbow flags from the balcony in an act of civil disobedience.

The bill, or the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, would offer equal marriage rights and benefits under the law for gay and lesbian couples while offering protections to religious institutions that oppose such unions.

If approved, the bill will then move to the desk of Gov. Pat Quinn, who as a forceful proponent of marriage equality, is eager to sign it into law. Illinois would then join three states — Rhode Island, Delaware and Minnesota — where marriage equality legislation has passed in recent weeks. It already passed in the Senate on Valentine’s Day.

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama again declared his personal support for the marriage bill, saying, “Here in Illinois, we’ve got a vote on same-sex marriage that’s going to be coming up in the Legislature. I just want to say for the record it’s something that I deeply support.”

Last week, Harris told supporters “We will win” and has long said that he would not call the measure up for consideration if he did not possess the votes to pass it. In addition, leaders within in the Illinois Unites for Marriage Coalition assured community members they were confident the bill would pass last week, and said victory would just be a matter of time.

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