02/08/2012 03:54 pm ET

Illinois Gay Marriage Bill Introduced: State Lawmakers Aim For Marriage Equality

A group of pro-equality Illinois lawmakers on Wednesday filed a bill in the Illinois General Assembly that would legalize same-sex marriage in the Land of Lincoln.

The bill, filed by the state's trio of openly gay Reps. Greg Harris, Deb Mell and Kelly Cassidy, would create the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act and provide that all state laws "applicable to marriage apply equally to marriages of same-sex and different-sex couples and their children" and granting them "the same benefits, protections, and responsibilities under law," according to the Windy City Times.

The law would also amend the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act, passed into law last year, to recognize marriage and authorize the voluntary conversion of a civil union into a marriage.

Last month, the Windy City Times reported that a group of state legislators were meeting to begin talking strategy for a marriage equality bill that would be introduced as early as 2013. The bill's introduction was perhaps expedited on the heels of the Tuesday ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that California's gay marriage-banning Proposition 8 was unconstitutional.

Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of LGBT advocacy group Equality Illinois, said that the state's civiil union law "has already proven to have substantial weaknesses" and applauded the newly filed marriage bill as the logical next step toward LGBT equality in the state.

"Over the past year, we confirmed what we always suspected to be true: that creating a separate institution to provide substantially the same rights did not add up to full equality under the law," Cherkasov said in a statement. "Separate is not equal. And we at Equality Illinois will not rest until gay and lesbian couples in every corner of the state - who are equal in love - are also equal in marriage."

The Civil Rights Agenda political and policy director Lowell Jaffe said his group is "on the ground in Springfield today working aggressively with legislators to build a strong coalition around the marriage equality bill" in a Wednesday statement.

"I am proud to be standing in the Capitol of this great state today as this bill is introduced, and only a day after the Proposition 8 ruling in California. It is exciting to see that legislators across this country are embracing the fact that 'gay rights' are civil rights," Jaffe said.

Harris, the lead architect of the state's civil union law who has twice before introduced marriage equality bills in Illinois, told the Chicago Phoenix that the bill "marks the next step in our journey toward full marriage equality in our state."

"It's not going to happen quickly, it's not going to happen without a lot of hard work," Harris continued.

While the state's civil union law was widely seen by LGBT advocates to be an important political victory toward granting many of the same rights and responsibilities to same-sex spouses as heterosexual couples within state boundaries, marriage equality has long remained the end goal.