Steans to receive Equality Illinois Freedom Award

Sen. Heather Steans. Photo: ilga.gov.

Sen. Heather Steans. Photo: ilga.gov.

Equality Illinois, a Chicag0-based LGBT rights and policy organization, announced Wednesday it will honor Illinois Senator Heather Steans for her persistent efforts over the last five years to achieve equality for the LGBT community in the state legislature.

The organization will present Steans with the award at its annual Justice for All Gala Feb. 9 — an honor it reserves for those who “who demonstrate remarkable vision, courage and leadership in the effort to achieve full equality for LGBT individuals in Illinois,” according to a media release.

“[Steans] embodies the reason the Equality Illinois Freedom Award was created,” said EQIL CEO Bernard Cherkasov. “Sen. Steans has been one of the General Assembly’s most vocal and passionate supporters of full equality for LGBT people.”

Steans, a Chicago Democrat, is the chief sponsor of the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, pending legislation that would legalize same-sex marriage in Illinois. The bill is expected to come up for vote in a Senate committee as early as Feb. 5 when its new legislative session begins.

Earlier this month, Steans led the bill to victory in an 8-5 Senate Executive Committee vote during the legislature’s lame duck session. However, the push to advance the bill to the full Senate floor was called off just hours after the historic passage, when Steans and other proponents conceded they had run out of time. Steans and the chief sponsor in the House, Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), reintroduced the bill in the new General Assembly Jan. 8.

In 2009, Steans introduced a similar bill that would have legalized gay and lesbian nuptials.

“Being able to help gay and lesbian Illinoisans win the freedom to marry the love of their life is a reward in itself, but to be recognized for that work with the Equality Illinois Freedom Award is truly humbling,” Sen. Steans said in the release. “We’ve come so far, so fast that I believe our efforts will result in passage of the marriage bill in a very short time.”

Prior to becoming senator in 2008, Steans worked and advocated for education reform, economic development causes and government finance. She currently chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee and vice-chairs the Environment Committee.

She lives with her husband Leo Smith and their three children in the Edgewater neighborhood on the city’s North Side.

Previous Freedom Award winners include Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, state Rep. Harris, former state Rep. Constance “Connie” A. Howard, former Comptroller Dawn Clark Netsch, and the late state Rep. Mark Beaubien Jr.

A call to Steans for further comments was not returned early Wednesday afternoon.