Illinois Senate committee to vote on marriage equality bill Tuesday

cloudy-springfield-statehouseSPRINGFIELD — Proponents of a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in Illinois said Monday the state’s Senate Executive Committee will consider the measure at a Tuesday hearing, the very first working day of the Senate’s new session.

Activists, sponsoring legislators and other proponents have wasted no time to push the bill forward in the new session of the legislature after the clock ran out on an earlier effort during the lame duck session in January.

The hearing will take place at 1 p.m. Tuesday in room 212 at the State Capitol Building in Springfield.

Sen. Heather Steans, the bill’s chief sponsor in the Senate and Rep. Greg Harris, its chief sponsor in the House — two Chicago Democrats — expected swift movement on the bill since last month and many advocates working on the bill said the earliest it could be considered in committee is Feb. 5.

That day has almost come.

Anthony Martinez and Rick Garcia of the The Civil Rights Agenda said the bill will likely pass through the committee on party lines.

“I never think anything is a done deal, but right now, every indication is that the votes are there and it will sail out of committee,” said Garcia, who heads up the organization’s Equal Marriage Illinois Project.

The committee is composed of 10 Democrats and five Republicans. Victory in the committee will then move the bill to a full Senate vote, which Senate President John Cullerton said last week will be Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day.

“I think the votes are there and it will pop out of committee and then the following week we hope to have a full Senate vote,” Garcia said.

The bill needs at least 30 votes in the Senate and 60 votes in the House before it can move to the desk of Governor Pat Quinn, who said he will immediately sign it into law.

Activists at TCRA and other organizations said the bill will quickly move within the next few weeks.

Word of the committee push comes just hours after Steans and advocates finalized new language in the bill, a contentious topic among both proponents and opponents of the bill, this afternoon. Wording specific to exemptions for religious institutions that wish not to perform gay and lesbian weddings has been adjusted to affirm special rights and privileges under the U.S. and state constitutions and it affirms the Illinois Human Rights Act, said Garcia.

Nothing in the bill will violate those existing laws, he said.

Opponents in the lame duck session seized the problematic language as a way of stopping the bill’s progress. Sen. Dale Righter (R-Mattoon) attacked passages of the bill that defined the exemptions for religious organizations during the lame duck session Senate Executive Committee hearing, saying no church in his district would qualify for an exemption at all. Despite his questioning, the bill passed through the committee with an 8-5 vote.

“That language was hugely, hugely problematic and caused us more harm than good,” Garcia said.

In addition, further changes to the language could potentially be made as amendments to the bill in the coming weeks as talks continue with Republican members.

Tuesday’s vote will likely be the second time the bill has passed through the Senate Executive Committee, a historic step toward legal gay marriage in Illinois.

Follow Chicago Phoenix for breaking updates on the battle for Illinois Marriage equality.