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It’s time for gay marriage to come to Illinois

Jerry Bowman left David Strzepek joother supporters Social Security benefits for same sex couples during marriage equality rally Monday Nov.

Jerry Bowman, left, and David Strzepek join other supporters of Social Security benefits for same sex couples during a marriage equality rally Monday, Nov. 4, 2013, in Springfield, Ill. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

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Updated: November 5, 2013 9:53AM

Gay couples who have been waiting — and waiting — for a chance to marry in Illinois might not have to wait much longer. That’s excellent news — and a welcome change from just a couple of weeks ago when it sounded as though the legislative drive had stalled.

The Illinois House of Representatives is expected to vote as soon as midweek on a bill authorizing gay marriage that already has passed the Senate, and advocates believe they have the necessary 60 votes to pass it. Any legislators still holding out should heed the growing support for gay marriage in Illinois and make sure this bill becomes law. In almost every legislative district, either a majority or a plurality of voters supports it.

Since the push for gay marriage came up short at the end of the spring legislative session in May, supporters have mounted a much stronger campaign. They hired a campaign manager and other staff members and switched their focus to showcasing gay couples’ own stories. They set up well-staffed phone banks across the state to rally support and convince people who were on the fence.

This time around, advocates also worked harder to engage people of faith, enlisting those voices with a message that this bill is about love and family and commitment and urging them to contact their legislators and community leaders. It’s a strategy that has worked in other parts of the country.

Moreover, those working in the legislative trenches say House Speaker Michael Madigan is working the bill behind scenes, urging a yes vote.

The result is a shift in the House toward supporting the legislation — a shift that may be just large enough to clear the final hurdle.

If the House passes the bill, the Senate is poised to quickly concur with the House version, and Gov. Pat Quinn has said he will sign it. That would be very good news for Illinois, not only because the state will finally have joined others that already accept gay marriage but also because it will have come about by legislative action, which is preferable to having a court impose a solution, as happened in New Jersey.

State Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), who is leading the effort to pass this bill in the House, said two “huge” developments over the summer have pushed some votes into the “yes” column.

First, many legislators previously thought the state’s civil-unions law already made available as many benefits as Illinois was capable of providing and that gay marriage would accomplish little more. But then the U.S. Supreme Court in June struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act and ruled that more than 1,000 benefits would be available for people in states that authorized gay marriage. Suddenly, a lot more was at stake.

Second, in Illinois there’s been an outpouring of voters and civic leaders saying the state needs gay marriage because it is the right thing to do, Harris said.

“Things are moving in the right direction,” he said.

Sometimes love wins out.

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