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Illinois legislators weigh gay marriage as vote looms

Published: Monday, May 27, 2013 5:30 a.m. CST
Caption
(AP photo)
Illinois Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, speaks with reporters on the House floor during session at the Illinois State Capitol on Friday in Springfield. With only days left before the Illinois General Assembly adjourns for the summer, advocates of gay marriage still are pushing for the final votes they need to pass it after weeks of fierce lobbying on both sides.

SPRINGFIELD – With the General Assembly nearing the end of its spring session, gay rights advocates are vowing to call a vote at any moment to make Illinois the 13th state to embrace same-sex marriage.

When the year began, proponents were pushing to make Illinois the first state in the Midwest to etch gay marriage into law, just two years after approving civil unions. But since the Illinois Senate voted in favor on Valentine’s Day, it’s remained unclear whether supporters are one or a dozen votes shy of the 60 needed to pass it in the Illinois House.

Sponsoring Rep. Greg Harris of Chicago has been coy about the vote count. Gov. Pat Quinn supports the idea and invited lawmakers to send him a bill to sign.

In the meantime, three other states have adopted gay marriage – Minnesota, Delaware and Rhode Island.

Lobbying has taken a fierce tone: Advocates have brought television stars to the Capitol, spread letters from supportive business executives and heard testimony from pastors. Opponents have spoken out from the pulpit, on the radio and through waves of robocalls.

Here are some key questions lawmakers are weighing as they make their decisions:

Who supports the legislation?

The Illinois Unites for Marriage coalition – led by three gay-rights advocacy groups – is among the driving forces behind the bill. In addition to Quinn, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is among Democrats in support. U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, the state’s top elected Republican, also supports the proposal, as does outgoing state Republican Chairman Pat Brady.

Who opposes the legislation?

The bill has faced fierce opposition from religious organizations and other groups that believe same-sex marriages undermine the sanctity of such unions. The Catholic Conference of Illinois has distributed a toolkit to churches and schools outlining the church’s position that marriage can only be between a man and a woman. Prominent pastors of several large black churches in the Chicago area have fought the measure through radio commercials and robocalls.

Does the bill force religious institutions to perform same-sex marriages?

The proposal states that religious institutions are not required to carry out same-sex weddings, but opponents are concerned the bill would force them to allow such ceremonies in fellowship halls, parish centers or even sanctuaries. Before the bill was sent to the House, lawmakers tweaked it to say that no church or other religious organization may be sued should it refuse to make its parish available for same-sex marriage ceremonies. But businesses, health care and educational facilities and social service agencies are not exempt.

What is the difference between a gay marriage and a civil union?

Approving gay marriage would give same-sex couples the same legal standing in Illinois as heterosexual couples. Civil unions give couples many benefits, including the right to make funeral and end-of-life decisions, the right to share a room in a nursing home, automatic hospital visitation, adoption and parental rights, but marriage could give couples additional benefits under state and federal law. Advocates argue the main issue is equality.

What federal benefits could a married gay couple receive?

The answer hangs on a U.S. Supreme Court ruling expected this summer. If the nation’s highest court strikes down portions of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, it would allow legally married gay couples or, in some cases, a surviving spouse in a same-sex marriage, to have access to breaks on estate taxes, health insurance for spouses of federal workers and Social Security survivor benefits.

Does the Illinois bill affect school curriculum?

No. School curriculum is not part of this bill. Local school boards make curriculum decisions in Illinois.

How soon could the state start issuing marriage licenses to gay couples?

Gay and lesbian couples will be allowed to marry 30 days after the governor signs any legislation.

Will the existing civil unions of same-sex couples continue to be valid?

Yes. Couples who have entered a civil union are not required to obtain a marriage license. But if they choose to get married, they can take their certificate to a county clerk’s office and ask to be issued a marriage license. The exchange of documents will be free during the first year.

Where do Illinoisans stand?

A September poll for Southern Illinois University’s Paul Simon Public Policy Institute found 44 percent of those surveyed said they believe same-sex couples “should be allowed to legally marry.” That’s a 10-point increase from 2010, when only 34 percent backed gay marriage in a poll by the same institute.

How much support did the bill get in the Illinois Senate?

The bill was approved 34-21. The only Republican voting yes was Sen. Jason Barickman of Bloomington. Two House Republicans – Reps. Ed Sullivan Jr. of Mundelein and Ron Sandack of Downers Grove – are expected to support the measure.

How many states allow gay marriage?

Twelve states and the District of Columbia. Minnesota is the most recent state to allow same-sex couples to marry after Gov. Mark Dayton signed legislation into law May 14. In Iowa, the state’s Supreme Court ruled that Iowa’s constitution required that same-sex couples be given the same marriage rights as heterosexual couples.

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