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Illinois Governor Pat Quinn: Civil Unions Could Happen This Year

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Eighteen months after its western neighbor stood up for gay marriage, Illinois may be close to legalizing civil unions for same-sex couples.

In April of 2009, the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously upheld that state's law allowing same-sex marriage. Since then, legislators and activists have pushed for similar progress in Illinois, a state generally viewed as significantly more progressive than its neighbor across the Mississippi.

And if Governor Pat Quinn is any good at counting votes, they may have something of a victory on their hands this year.

In a sit-down with the editorial board of the suburban Daily Herald, Quinn was asked if civil unions could be a reality in the state by Christmas.

His answer:

"The votes are there, I believe, Quinn said. "In the Senate for sure, and definitely I think we can do it in the House.

He called himself a "strong advocate of civil unions, which would give partners the same rights and responsibilities to adoption, emergency health care decisions and property ownership, among other things, that married couples have."

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"I think we can pass it this year. I would like to see it voted on earlier," Quinn said.

He also said that he wouldn't stand in the way of a gay marriage bill if Illinois voters supported it.

The measure legalizing civil unions was sponsored this year by Rep. Greg Harris, a Democratic state legislator from Chicago.

Every year, Harris sponsors two bills in the House: one legalizing civil unions, and the other for gay marriage. While he is a proponent of marriage rights, he's also a pragmatic vote-counter; Harris believes that more legislators will support the civil unions bill, though he's not certain that he has the 60 votes required for passage.

Neither, for that matter, is Progress Illinois; the liberal politics blog describes its reaction as "optimistic but skeptical."

Still, there may be some urgency to the matter. Quinn's rival for governor, Republican State Senator Bill Brady, is staunchly opposed to any form of marriage rights for same-sex couples. Earlier this year, he introduced a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage and civil unions.

If Quinn were to lose in November, the December veto session might be the last shot for some time at advancing gay rights in the state.