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Group pushing anti-gay referendum
by Amy Wooten

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Proponents of an Illinois constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage are almost done with their push to collect enough signatures needed to place an anti-same-sex marriage referendum on November election ballots.

The right-wing organization Protect Marriage Illinois ( PMI ) is preparing to submit its signatures to the State Board of Elections. PMI—which failed to collect enough valid signatures in 2006 for a similar effort—extended its deadline to turn in petitions that call for the Illinois General Assembly to propose an anti-gay marriage amendment to the state constitution. If they are successful, a non-binding referendum will be placed on the Nov. 4 ballot.

PMI wants state lawmakers to amend the Illinois Constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman. The organization set an April 30 deadline to submit signatures. Signatures need to be submitted to the State Board of Election by May 5.

The Illinois Constitution already prohibits same-sex marriage. The PMI push, if successful, would only place an advisory referendum on the ballot, and would not change the state constitution. However, the group's ultimate goal is to place a binding referendum on election ballots in the future.

A review of PMI's Web site reveals that its leaders are being far more careful when it comes to collecting signatures. In order to boost the number of valid signatures collected this time around, the site carefully details the proper signature-collection procedure. PMI is making it clear that they learned a lesson in 2006.

PMI re-launched its marriage petition drive last May, months after the State Board of Elections refused to certify its call for an anti-same-sex marriage advisory referendum. Several local LGBT organizations and allies banded together to help verify the validity of thousands of signatures submitted by PMI.

PMI had submitted over 330,000 signatures in 2006, but only 91 percent were considered valid. PMI attempted to pursue a federal appeal to have Illinois' referendum requirements deemed unconstitutional, but the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

The conservative group needs to meet the required 270,000 valid signatures. PMI told the State Journal-Register that its goal is to collect more than 300,000 signatures to make up for any signatures that will be thrown out. The organization also said that if it fails to get an advisory referendum on the November ballot, it will start over again for 2010.

PMI and other conservative groups oppose civil unions legislation that is making its way through the state capitol. HB 1826, authored by Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, won committee approval and awaits a full House vote. Sen. David Koehler, D-Peoria, recently introduced the Senate version of the measure. The legislation would legalize civil unions in Illinois, providing opposite-sex, same-sex and senior couples all the same benefits of marriage.

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