LGBT couples may have more than one reason to celebrate this Valentine's Day. State Senate President John Cullerton told the Chicago Sun-Times that he wants to pass a bill legalizing same-sex marriage Feb. 14.
"I'd like to pass it out of committee next week and pass it on Valentine's Day," Cullerton told the paper.
Cullerton's comments come as LGBT activists amp up efforts to build support for the bill.
The bill was expected to pass out of committee Feb. 5, the first possible day that the Senate Executive Committee could hear the measure since new lawmakers were sworn in last month.
Bernard Cherkasov of Equality Illinois, said that Illinois Unites for Marriage, the coalition formed to pass the bill, has added field organizers dedicated solely to the marriage campaign. Equality Illinois has also added staff, he said.
The coalition has been holding in-district meetings and reaching out to constituents, Cherkasov said. It is asking that supporters contact their lawmakers in Springfield, either in person or by phone.
Rick Garcia, policy advisor of The Civil Rights Agenda, said his group has been holding forums throughout the state. The group is also calling Illinoisans and urging them to contact their lawmakers.
"I'm very confident in the Senate," Garcia said.
The push is the second effort this year to pass equal marriage in Illinois. At attempt last month during the General Assembly's lame duck session fell short in the Senate. However, Cherkasov said he thinks the time is right now.
"I believe that the Senate president would not have announced a timeline on the bill if he did not think it had the votes to pass," Cherkasov said.
Randy Hannig of Equality Illinois said that sponsors are aiming pass the bill through both houses within the coming weeks.
"We've had time to reflect in the last few weeks," said Hannig. "We're confident that now is the time to pass the marriage bill, not just out of the Senate but out of the House as well."
Anthony Martinez, executive director of The Civil Rights Agenda, said the bill could be heard in both houses by month's end. He said that supporters were confident of the bill's fate in committee.
"We'd like to get it done as soon as possible," Martinez said.
Democrats currently dominate both chambers. But while a Senate vote could be weeks away on the bill, a harder fight is expected in the House, where many downstate Democrats may oppose the bill.
Sponsors of the measure have been working with religious leaders to make the bill more palatable to those who have concerns about religious protections.
Senate sponsor Heather Steans has said that no church will have to perform a same-sex marriage against its beliefs.
Sponsors will tack the revised bill as an amendment onto a shell bill, said Hannig. Hannig said he expected sponsors to amend Senate Bill 10 to carry the "Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act."
LGBT activists are anxious to bring the measure to a vote in the Senate and have strongly encouraged lawmakers to act on it as soon as possible.
"Because the House is going to take time," Garcia said. Once the bill clears the Senate, he said, supporters can turn their focus on the House, where the bill will be a harder sell.
Gov. Pat Quinn has voiced strong support for the bill, and he is expected to sign the measure into law should it pass in the General Assembly.
Illinois Unites for Marriage is currently is seeking volunteers for a phone bank. More information is available at www.IllinoisUnites.org .
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