FILE - In this Feb. 8, 2012 file photo, Illinois Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, right, confers with Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, on the Senate floor during session at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, Ill. Advocates of legalized gay marriage in Illinois are pleased that Steans and state Rep. Greg Harris are planning to push for approval in January. Steans and Harris say they believe they have the votes necessary to fulfill Gov. Pat Quinn's hope of signing same-sex marriage into law in January. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File)
Updated: January 18, 2013 6:09AM
It’s time for gay marriage in Illinois.
Not in the distant future. Not in the near future.
Backers of a same-sex marriage bill announced last week that they were “within striking” distance of the votes needed to pass the “Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act” in the Illinois Legislature.
They hope to pull the trigger during the lame-duck session, which begins the first week of January.
There is no good reason to wait.
The climate in Illinois and across the United States has changed dramatically in the last 10 years, with rapid-fire changes in just the last 12 months.
Eight years ago, no state allowed gay marriage. Now, nine states plus D.C. allow for same-sex marriages.
Early on, change came through the courts or state legislation. In November, gay marriage broke a new barrier: three states approved it through popular vote.
“There’s been a lot of momentum,” said Sen. Heather Steans, co-sponsor of the legislation. “We want to be in the forefront of it.”
A Gallup poll released last week showed that 53 percent of Americans believe gays should have equal marriage rights, up from 48 percent one year ago.
Locally, two recent Illinois polls indicate strong and growing support. A May poll showed majority support for same-sex marriage for the first time in Illinois. The poll by Victoria Research found 52 percent in favor, up from 46 percent in 2010.
And in September, a poll by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute showed a 10-percentage-point increase in support in Illinois for same-sex marriage in just two years, up to 44 percent. Illinois’ top Democrats — including President Barack Obama, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Pat Quinn — all back gay marriage.
“As people talk to their friends and co-workers, they start to see that treating families with respect is the right thing to do,” said Rep. Greg Harris, also a sponsor of the Illinois bill.
It is the only just thing to do.
But wait, you ask, didn’t Illinois recently pass a law allowing for civil unions? Isn’t that enough?
The civil union bill passed in 2010 was an excellent first step, but a poor substitute for real equality.
You also may wonder why we are pushing for gay marriage when we’ve been adamant that the Legislature should focus on much-needed pension reform in January. For an issue this important — and one much more straightforward than the complicated gambling bill Springfield is contemplating — we have confidence legislators can walk and chew gum at the same time.
It’s important to note that the same-sex bill protects the rights of religious institutions not to perform same-sex marriages. It’s also important to note that gay marriage may come whether the state Legislature acts or not — a lawsuit filed last May seeks the freedom for same-sex couples to marry.
The elected representatives of the people of Illinois should own this issue.
Legalize gay marriage bill now. Stand on the right side of history.