The stage was set for a holiday showdown over marriage equality in Illinois when state lawmakers announced plans Thursday to push for legislation before the end of the current session in early January.
Senator Heather Steans and Representative Greg Harris said they would take up the measure, known as the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, in the closing days of the current General Assembly. A new crop of lawmakers will be sworn in January 9.
“The move carried the practical effect of mobilizing gay activists to lobby lawmakers over the holidays but also represented a tossing down of the gauntlet on the issue, revving up opponents for an intense battle,” reports the Chicago Tribune.
Steans and Harris declined to say how much support they have for the bill, but they indicated they would not bring the measure for a vote unless they felt assured of victory. The bill has the backing of influential figures including Governor Pat Quinn and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, but opponents including the Catholic Conference of Illinois plan to fight the effort.
Illinois began to allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions last year. In addition to the legislative front, Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Illinois have filed lawsuits on behalf of same-sex couples seeking to marry.
"By bringing the marriage bill to a vote, Representative Harris and Senator Steans the co-sponsors of HB 5170 have brought hope to thousands of same-sex couples across Illinois," said Camilla Taylor, Marriage Project Director for Lambda Legal, in a statement. "Whether it's through the courts or through the legislature, Illinois same-sex couples and their children need the freedom to marry now, and it's encouraging that our elected officials agree. The time is now."