CHICAGO
11/19/2012 06:13 pm ET Updated Nov 19, 2012

Illinois Gay Marriage: Will The Prairie State Soon Say 'I Do' To Marriage Equality?

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.

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