CHICAGO -- Emboldened by Election Day votes to allow gay marriage in three states, advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Illinois are pushing to accelerate their quest to bring marriage equality to the Prairie State.
It's been less than 18 months since Illinois legalized civil unions, allowing same-sex couples many of the same rights and responsibilities as those in opposite-sex marriages. But the law falls short of federally-recognized marriage and many Illinois residents are growing restless for equality.
Anthony Martinez, executive director of Chicago-based LGBT advocacy group The Civil Rights Agenda, said the state's civil unions send "a very clear signal that we don't respect same-gender relationships the same way that we respect opposite-gender relationships," a distinction he described as neither right nor fair.
"If we're going to show that we treat all couples equally, we have to be able to show that by granting marriage to same-gender couples," Martinez added.
For Jayson Bernard, a resident of Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood, entering into a civil union last June with Roberto, his partner of nearly a decade, felt like a "nice step," but "it wasn't a wedding for us." The two are holding out for the marriage ceremony of their dreams.
"The civil union is nice, but it shouldn't be the end, it has to go farther," Bernard told HuffPost. "We did the civil union to show the world that we are interested in those types of unions and that we can do it."
State Rep. Greg Harris (D) said he is ready to call a vote in Springfield once he lines up 60 supporters in the state House of Representatives and 30 in the Senate. Meanwhile, there is plenty of work to do, even with a veto-proof supermajority of Democrats newly elected to the statehouse.
"What happened in those other states did not happen through luck or chance," Harris said Monday. "It happened through a lot of hard work and now we have to continue to do that hard work in Illinois as well."
Each time Harris has introduced marriage equality legislation in Illinois, it has failed to advance beyond a committee vote. The state legislature approved civil unions with only one vote to spare in the House and two in the Senate.
Though Democrats overwhelmingly supported civil unions in 2010, LGBT advocates have a long way to go in convincing Republicans. Last month, Democratic state Rep. Rita Mayfield, of suburban Waukegan, told the Daily Herald that she is "still not clear on why they feel the need for marriage when you’ve got civil unions."
"How much more do you want?” she asked.
Momentum could benefit LGBT advocates, however. Last week, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a news conference that the "time for marriage equality [in Illinois] is now" as he named the issue among his top hopes for the state legislature's upcoming veto session, which begins Nov. 27. Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn previously vowed to sign any same-sex marriage bill that reaches his desk.
But the question remains: When? State Rep. Deb Mell (D), a cosponsor of Harris' bill, said she and fellow marriage equality proponents have some vote-counting ahead. "It does seem like we're on a fast track," she said.
"We have to go down and see where people are at and see if, to quote the president, some of my colleagues have evolved on the issue a bit," Mell told HuffPost. "My hope is that Illinois is at the forefront of this issue."
Voters approved gay marriage on Election Day in Maine, Maryland and Washington state. That brings the number of states allowing gay marriage to to nine. In addition, three states recognize marriages between two men or two women performed outside state lines.
Also on HuffPost:
New York lawmakers <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/24/new-york-gay-marriage_n_907901.html" target="_blank">legalized same-sex marriage on July 24, 2011</a>, making it the largest state at the time to pass such legislation.
Voters in Maryland <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/07/gay-marriage-victory_n_2085900.html" target="_blank">approved marriage equality in the November 2012 election</a>. Initially, the gay marriage bill was signed into law by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) on March 1, 2012, but opponents gathered enough signatures to force the issue back onto the ballot. With the passing of marriage equality, same-sex marriage <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/31/maryland-gay-marriage_n_2389044.html" target="_blank">ceremonies began on Jan. 1, 2013</a>.
Connecticut's Supreme Court <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/10/10/connecticut-gay-marriage_n_133605.html" target="_blank">ruled that same-sex couples had the right to marry on Nov. 12, 2008</a>, making it the third state in the nation to do achieve marriage equality.
Iowa's Supreme Court <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/04/03/iowa-gay-marriage-ban-rul_n_182782.html" target="_blank">ruled the state's gay marriage ban unconstitutional</a> on April 3, 2009.
Maine <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/07/gay-marriage-victory_n_2085900.html" target="_blank">made history in the November 2012 election</a> when it became the first state to pass marriage equality on the ballot. Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said, "Voters in Maine came to the common-sense conclusion that all people deserve the ability to make loving, lifelong commitments through marriage." Just three years ago, a popular vote overturned legislation that would have legalized same-sex marriage in the state.
Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to <a href="http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/first-legal-same-sex-marriage-performed-in-massachusetts" target="_blank"> legalize same-sex marriage on May 17, 2004</a>. The state's Supreme Court initially found the ban on gay marriage unconstitutional on Nov. 18, 2003.
Same-sex couples were able to <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-201_162-6042937.html" target="_blank">begin seeking marriage licenses</a> on Jan. 1, 2010.
Vermont, which invented civil unions, became <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/04/07/vermont-legalizes-gay-mar_n_184034.html" target="_blank">the first state to legalize gay marriage through a legislature's vote</a> -- overriding the governor's veto. Same-sex couples were able to begin marrying on Sept, 1, 2009.
Gay couples were able to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/12/01/gay-marriage-dc-council-p_n_375435.html" target="_blank">begin marrying in the nation's capital</a> on March 9, 2010.
The state initially began conducting gay marriages on June 16, 2008. On November 5, 2008, however, California <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/26/proposition-8-timeline_n_3503512.html" target="_blank">voters passed Proposition 8</a>, which amended the state's constitution to declare marriage as only between a man and a woman. On June 26, 2013, by a 5-4 vote, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/26/hollingsworth-v-perry-ruling_n_3438269.html" target="_blank">the Supreme Court justices held in Hollingsworth v. Perry</a> that the traditional marriage activists who put Proposition 8 on California ballots in 2008 did not have the constitutional authority, or standing, to defend the law in federal courts after the state refused to appeal its loss at trial, opening the door for marriages to resume in the state.
On February 13, 2012, Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/13/washington-gay-marriage-signed-chris-gregoire_n_1273887.html" target="_blank">signed a law allowing same-sex marriage ceremonies</a> to begin on June 7, 2012. The process was delayed by gay marriage opponents who gathered enough signatures to put the issue up to a state vote in November 2012. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/09/washington-gay-marriage-law_n_2266574.html" target="_blank">Gay marriage passed on November 7, 2012.</a> The official determination for Washington did not come until one day after the election because of the state's mail-in voting system.
Gay marriage came to Rhode Island when Governor Lincoln Chafee <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/01/gay-marriage-minnesota-rhode-island_n_3686034.html" target="_blank">signed the marriage equality bill</a> into law on May 2, 2013.
Delaware obtained gay marriage when <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/07/delaware-gay-marriage-law-_n_3232771.html" target="_blank">Governor Jack Markell signed the marriage equality bill it into law</a> on May 7, 2013.
Minnesota same-sex couples achieved marriage equality when Gov. Mark Dayton signed the legislation into law <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/14/minnesota-gay-marriage-legal-_n_3275484.html" target="_blank">on May 14, 2013</a>.
Newark Mayor Cory Booker <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/20/cory-booker-same-sex-marriage_n_4134116.html?&ir=Gay%20Voices&utm_hp_ref=gay-voices" target="_blank">began marrying same-sex couples</a> at City Hall at 12:01 a.m. on Oct. 21, 2013.
Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed same-sex marriage into law on Nov. 13, 2013, making it the 15th state to pass such legislation.
Illinois became the 16th state to legalize gay marriage, with the House <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/05/illinois-gay-marriage_n_4220793.html" target="_blank">having passed the bill on Nov. 5</a>. and Gov. Pat Quinn signing the legislation on Nov. 20.