President Barack Obama expressed his support for marriage equality legislation pending in his home state of Illinois, marking the first time he has backed a legislative campaign at the state level.
White House spokesman Shin Inouye announced the President’s position Saturday to the Chicago Sun-Times.
"While the president does not weigh in on every measure being considered by state legislatures, he believes in treating everyone fairly and equally, with dignity and respect," he said.
"As he has said, his personal view is that it's wrong to prevent couples who are in loving, committed relationships, and want to marry, from doing so. Were the President still in the Illinois State Legislature, he would support this measure that would treat all Illinois couples equally," Inouye continued.
The measure known as the Religious Freedom and Fairness Act could receive a vote in the Illinois legislature as early as this week. Obama served as a state senator before he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004.
During his state senate campaign in 1996, Obama submitted a questionnaire to Outlines, now the Windy City Times, in which he said he supported the right of same-sex couples to marry. As President, Obama opposed marriage equality until last May, when he announced his personal support in an interview with ABC News.
While Democrats control both chambers of the Illinois legislature, the Sun-Times reports that the statement from Obama will “prod--and give political cover to--reluctant Democrats from conservative suburban and Downstate districts.” Governor Pat Quinn, a Democrat, has promised to sign the measure.
The Illinois legislature passed a civil union law that took effect last year.
President Obama supported ballot initiatives for same-sex marriage that passed in Maine, Maryland and Washington this year. However, as recently as October, he described state legislative efforts as a “conversation,” and last year, on the eve of the vote for marriage equality in the New York state legislature, he described the effort as a “debate.”
The step forward arrives as a handful of state legislatures in addition to Illinois, including Delaware, New Jersey and Rhode Island, are expected to visit the marriage equality question over the next year.
Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois, called President Obama’s endorsement of legislative action “a strong and significant statement to our General Assembly that the time is now to act.”
"With the President's statement, Illinois lawmakers should fully understand that voting for the freedom to marry puts them on the right side of history," he said. "We appreciate the President's call to action in the Illinois General Assembly as lawmakers prepare to return to Springfield in the days ahead. President Obama faced no political repurcussions from his support of marriage for gays and lesbians, and neither should members of the Illinois House and Senate."