Two years after narrowly passing a controversial civil union law, the Illinois Legislature may again be headed for a showdown over gay rights this time on the question of same-sex marriage.
The legislator who sponsored the state's 2010 civil union measure, Rep. Gregory Harris, D-Chicago, says he hopes to push legislation allowing same-sex marriage, possibly as early as next week, if he believes it has the support to pass.
He and others think it might. In any case, it appears the old debate over the definition of marriage is ripe for a renewed round in Springfield, if not next week then in the new year.
The lesser step of civil unions barely eked by in Springfield two years ago, but supporters say this year's election outcomes on same- sex ballot issues in four states indicate a change in attitude.
"It was a win in all four states" for same-sex marriage advocates, said Randy Hannig, director of public policy for
Equality Illinois, a gay rights organization. Those victories followed a decade of anti-gay-marriage initiatives in 32 states, including Missouri. "We were 0-for-32 up to that point," he said.
At the same time, state Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton, who opposed the civil union law two years ago, is pushing a constitutional amendment this year that would define marriage as being between a man and a woman a similar statement to the one Missouri voters overwhelmingly approved eight years ago.
The amendment would have to be put on the ballot and win a statewide vote to go into effect. Haine says even same-sex marriage proponents should view that as a chance for final public input on the long-argued question.
"We could have a great debate among our citizens" and settle it once and for all, said Haine.
Under current Illinois law, same-sex couples are allowed to enter into civil unions that provide many of the same legal rights as married couples in areas such as medical decisions, property rights and insurance coverage. But they don't have the legal right to state- recognized marriage.
That was the compromise when the bill passed late in 2010. Despite proponents' agreement to keep the word "marriage" out of it and despite the lame-duck session at the time, with some lawmakers no longer facing future elections the measure passed by just two votes in the Senate and one in the House.
So why, just two years later, do proponents think there's a chance lawmakers will allow same-sex marriage? Harris, the sponsor, points to the Nov. 6 election. Voters in Maryland, Maine and Washington approved same-sex marriage measures, while Minnesota defeated a gay marriage ban all firsts.
"I'll be talking with (fellow legislators) about the result of the election in those four other states," Harris said. "There's been a dramatic shift" in public attitudes.
David E. Smith, executive director of the Illinois Family Institute, which opposes same-sex marriage, disputed Harris' interpretation, saying, "Greg is apparently forgetting that there are 32 other states that have spoken …