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Illinois not ready to say ‘I do’ to gay marriage

Illinois Rep. Greg Harris D-Chicago speaks with reporters House floor during vesessiIllinois State Capitol Springfield Ill. Wednesday Nov. 17 2010.

Illinois Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, speaks with reporters on the House floor during veto session at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, Ill., Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2010. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

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Updated: May 16, 2012 8:18AM

SPRINGFIELD — Despite a push by gay lawmakers, the effort to legalize gay marriage in Illinois is unlikely to get off the ground this year, the chief sponsor of a marriage proposal said.

State Rep. Greg Harris (D–Chicago) told the Chicago Sun-Times that reeling in Medicaid and pensions programs as well as approving an overall budget would take precedence during the homestretch of the General Assembly’s spring session.

“I never say never,” Harris quipped. “[But] I don’t think there will be a push before the end of this session.”

His bill, HB 5170, would delete a provision outlawing marriage between individuals of the same sex.

It was first introduced on Feb. 8 and, perhaps unsurprisingly during an election year in which fiscal issues have been front-and-center, remains pent up in the House Rules Committee.

But Harris, one of the three openly gay lawmakers in the House who filed the legislation, said introducing the bill fosters dialogue between lawmakers and their constituents and gives interested parties a chance to evaluate their positions.

“This is how we passed the civil unions bill,” he said.

The state began giving civil union licenses in 2011, which provide same-sex couples many protections of married couples but aren’t recognized in some other states.

Six states in addition to Washington, D.C., currently allow gay marriage.

Maryland and Washington state also just legalized gay marriage this year, but those measures have not taken effect and could be struck down by referenda.

Recent poll numbers in Illinois outline the political difficulty of moving from civil unions to marriage in the Land of Lincoln.

The last statewide poll on the topic conducted by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University was during the fall of 2010, when a third of registered voters said they supported gay marriage. Back then, the civil unions measure passed with only one vote to spare in the Illinois House.

In another poll this spring, 22 percent of registered voters in the state’s most conservative region — the southernmost 18 counties — said they supported legalization.

“You’d have a hard time moving the ball down here I think, in terms of civil unions to full-blown gay marriage,” said Charlie Leonard, a visiting professor at the institute who coordinates polling.

On the national level, Gallup polling showed for the first time last year that a majority of Americans believed gay marriage should be recognized by the law.

But opposition remains. This spring, the Illinois Defense of Marriage Initiative sought 500,000 signatures to put a non-binding referendum on the November ballot, recommending the state legislature enshrine in the state constitution rules that forbid same-sex marriage.

Jim Finnegan, the president of the initiative, said that effort will fall short with the group likely acquiring about 100,000 signatures by the end of the month. However, he said it still sends a message that those opposed to gay marriage are willing to come forward.

“Those people that brought this bill up, they’ll bring it again and again,” he said. “This gives us a strong indication of who will be heard on this.”

Harris would not say how many votes he has lined up for legalization, but is confident that eventually he’ll get enough.

“I think this will happen,” he said. “I think this is an issue whose time is really here in the near future.”

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