A group of Illinois lawmakers have begun laying the groundwork for their latest push to bring marriage equality to the Land of Lincoln.
The Windy City Times reports that state representatives Greg Harris, Deb Mell, Kelly Cassidy, Ann Williams, Sara Feigenholtz and state senator Heather Steans have begun meeting with area LGBT and progressive groups to talk strategy for a bill that could be introduced as early as 2013.
Harris, who was the lead architect of the state's civil union law granting many of the same rights and responsibilities to same-sex spouses as heterosexual couples within state boundaries, admitted to the Windy City Times, however, that taking the next step toward marriage equality will not be an "easy process."
For many LGBT advocates in Illinois, while the civil union bill becoming law in January 2011 was acknowledged as an important political victory, a discrepancy remains when it comes to full marriage equality. Because the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) remains on the books, many rights still elude even those same-sex couples living in states that legally recognize their relationships. And a civil union, they say, is not equivalent to marriage.
Join The Impact Chicago (JTIC) was among a number of groups that took to the streets in a rally for marriage equality in Chicago's East Lakeview neighborhood in June, shortly after the state's civil union law went into effect.
Lauren Fleer, a member of that group, had recently married her partner of nine years in Iowa, where marriage equality was approved in early 2009. She told HuffPost Chicago that the Iowa official who approved their union asked why they, as an Illinois couple newly permitted to enter into a civil union, had crossed the border into the Hawkeye State for a marriage license.
"I think it's generally presumed that civil unions are the same thing as marriage and that's a mistake," Fleer said in June. "They gave us civil unions because they didn't want us to have marriage. We have one set of laws for all the straight people and now we're going to give you a separate and lesser set of laws for all you same-sex loving people and that's unacceptable."
State lawmakers pushing for marriage equality in Illinois said they are looking to the November elections as a crucial political moment as the entire state legislature is up for re-election.
Opponents of marriage equality have also begun their work to block same-sex spouses from being married in Illinois. In September, the Catholic Conference of Illinois announced the formation of a Defense of Marriage department, which it said will fight any attempts to legalize same-sex marriage in the state and work to protect the "stature of the nuclear family -- which provides love, stability and confidence to children, as well as organization to society."
Illinois marriage equality bills have been introduced several times before, but have thus far failed to pick up much momentum. In 2007 and 2009, Harris introduced the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, which died in committee both years. In 2009, Steans introduced a Senate version of Harris's bill, the Equal Marriage Act, which also died in committee.
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