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Gay Marriage Bill Faces Tough House Vote

state of Illinois

The Illinois House could soon take up a billthat would legalize same-sex marriage. Political observers have said this vote will be a tough test for the latest effort to allow gay couples to marry. That remains the case as lawmakers prepare to consider the proposal.

When the Illinois Senate approved a same-sex marriage bill last month, the measure passed with plenty of Democratic support, but only one Republican voted yes. Nearly two weeks later, the measure cleared a House committee by a slim margin. Now that the proposal has advanced to the House floor, observers say another tight vote can be expected.

Kent Redfield is a political scientist at the University of Illinois-Springfield. He says the mood at the capitol doesn’t exactly reflect what public polls are saying about same-sex marriage.

“There certainly has been a huge change in public opinion, but that doesn’t necessarily translate. There certainly is conflict within the Republican party about what their position ought to be,” Redfield said.

Redfield is referring to the situation involving Illinois GOP chair Pat Brady. Some have called for his ouster after he expressed support for lifting the ban on same-sex marriage.

With most rank-and-file Republicans wanting to stick with the party’s stance on the issue, finding any “yes” votes in the lower chamber will be a challenge.

Redfield says redistricting is a key factor here.

“The maps were drawn in the House and the Senate to make Republican districts very Republican,” Redfield said.

As a result, Redfield says, GOP House members -- especially those representing new territory -- will not want to anger their constituents.

“Everybody wants to broaden the base, but nobody wants to take risks in their particular district,” Redfield said.

Redfield says many lawmakers opposing the measure also will be voting based on their personal and religious beliefs. He adds that it’s not just Republicans lining up against the bill. He says it will be a tough vote for a number of rural Democrats, and even some from urban areas, in similar situations.

Rockford-area representative John Cabello says he won’t support the proposal. The Republican says he doesn’t put much faith in polls. He says he’s received feedback from both sides of the issue, but adds that a majority of messages against the bill have come from within his district.

“The people that elected me are against same-sex marriage,” Cabello said.

Cabello also cites his Catholic religious beliefs as a key part of his decision.

DeKalb-area representative, and fellow Republican, Bob Pritchardsays when he talks to voters about the issue, there appears to be an even split:

“It tends to be one that younger people tend to support, and older, more traditional people that have different value systems object to. It’s one that I hate to see tear our state apart,” Pritchard said. 

Pritchard says he can’t support the effort because federal law still defines marriage as being between a man and a woman. Pritchard says that’s the law he needs to follow on this issue.

Despite some clear opposition, key backers of the legislation are confident ahead of the vote, including Democratic Representative Greg Harris of Chicago.

"This is an idea whose time has come. You've got business leaders, you have faith leaders, you have political leaders of both parties who are supporting this. I think we are about to make a very positive change for tens of thousands of Illinois families."

That comment from Harris came right after Senate approval of the bill. With supporters trying to gather enough votes, it remains unclear when exactly the measure might come up for a vote in the House.

If it passes, Illinois -- which already allows civil unions -- would be on a fast track to becoming the next state to legalize same-sex marriage. That's because Governor Pat Quinn has said he would support such a bill, should it reach his desk.