Update January 3, 2:15 p.m.: The same-sex marriage bill will not be heard by the state senate until next week, Illinois Senate Democrats said in a statement this afternoon. Several senators whose "yay" votes are considered necessary for the bill to pass are currently away from Springfield due to family emergencies.
The bill's sponsors still expect it to be heard by the senate executive committee today.
The Illinois legislature is currently in its lame duck session, which, as the movie Lincoln teaches us, is the perfect time to pass through controversial laws since representatives and senators can vote however they damned well please without having to worry about getting re-elected.
They can, however, know that, should they vote yay, that they will have the full approval of President Obama (himself a former Illinois state legislator) and his former chief of staff, now mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel. Governor Pat Quinn has also strongly hinted that he won't hesitate to sign the bill into law, once it's passed by both houses.
The bill fell two shorts shy of a first hearing in the senate yesterday afternoon, but its backers are confident it will get a hearing later today and may even be brought to a vote. It needs to pass through both the senate and the house by next Wednesday, January 8, the day before the new legislative session starts up and a fresh batch of legislators are scheduled to be sworn in.
Illinois legalized same-sex civil unions back in June of 2011. (That measure, incidentally, passed during a lame duck session.)
State senator Heather Steans (D-Chicago) is confident the bill will receive the 30 votes it needs to pass in the senate -- if all the senators show up. "There is certainly a lot of great momentum," she told the website Chicago Phoenix. "If everyone shows up, then yes, the votes are here."
Steans and her co-sponsor, state representative Greg Harris (D-Chicago), are still working on the house, where the bill will need 60 votes to pass. "We are in striking distance," she told Chicago Phoenix, "if not already there."
The bill's most public opponent is not even a member of the legislature. Chicago's Cardinal Francis George sent a pastoral letter to his fellow priests across the state urging them to join him in fighting the bill. "Civil laws that establish 'same sex marriage' create a legal fiction," he wrote. "The State has no power to create something that nature itself tells us is impossible." (George's criteria for "impossibility" is that same-sex couples can't procreate naturally.)
It should be noted that 260 pastors and rabbis signed a petition urging legislators to support the gay marriage bill. "The sacred writings and traditions that we follow carry the messages of love, justice and inclusion," the petition read. "The very basis of marriage is to protect the family, strengthen our communities and advocate compassion. No couple should be excluded from that."
Should Illinois legalize same-sex marriages, writes Richard Socarides on the New Yorker's news blog, twenty percent of Americans will be living in states with marriage equality laws. And that's even before the Supreme Court's upcoming California ruling this June.
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