Illinois Gay Marriage Bill: Uncertain Fate in House

The Illinois Congress is in its final stages of passing a bill that will legalize same sex marriage. On Tuesday the House Executive Committee voted on the legislation with a vote of 6-5. Now a full house vote will be cast, and if approved, Governor Pat Quinn (D-Ill.) has declared he will sign the bill into law. Although the legislation has passed Illinois’ Senate, it will now have to face a notoriously conservative House. Based on both public opinion and the ideology of house members, the landmark decision may be a toss up.

The Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, or Senate Bill 10, will legalize same-sex marriages, and honor those marriages by providing the same spousal benefits as heterosexual marriages. In addition civil unions will have the opportunity to become bona fide marriages. If passed, Illinois will become the tenth state to legalize gay marriage. Washington D.C also declared same-sex marriages as legal in 2010.

In a decision made on Valentine’s Day, the Illinois Senate passed the bill in a vote 34 to 21. Not surprisingly the majority of the votes came from Senate Democrats. To pass in the House, 60 votes are required. However this goal will be no easy task going up against some very strong conservative contenders.

Gov. Quinn spoke openly about his approval for the bill. Upon waiting for action during a lame duck period in congress in December 2012, the Governor alluded to the fact that the fate of the legislation will be in the hands of the House members.

"It’s the House that probably the key arena at this time, and I think we’ll see how the members look at that issue. They should study it carefully and vote their conscience," he said.

Some House members have expressed their strong opposition to the initiative, while others find themselves on the opposite end of the spectrum in ideology. Courtesy of Illinois and Iowa’s Quad-City Times, several House members shared their sentiments on the proposed bill in the pipeline.

“I believe marriage is one man, one woman, it’s a very simple situation for me,” said Rep. Josh Harms, (R-Watseka).

“There are no protections for anybody as far as pending or future lawsuits. And I’m just morally opposed to it” said Rep. Brad Halbrook, (R-Shelbyville).

Newly elected Rep. Mike Smiddy, (D-Hillsdale) has other thoughts on the gay marriage agenda.

“I will be a co-sponsor of the bill when it comes to floor of the House, I believe it’s a civil rights issue that is paramount to getting fair treatment to same-sex partners,” he said.

Public opinion is also reflective of a divide on the gay marriage issue. A December 2012 opinion poll conducted by Public Policy Polling (PPP) indicated that Illinois voters leaned either way on marriage equality. The study found 47% favorability of legalizing gay marriage to 42% unfavorable, and 11% unsure on the issue. Although approval ratings lead the poll 5 percentage points to that of disapproval, the disparity is not significant enough to conclude an overall trend. The report also found that of the sample polled, voters under the age of 45 favored legalization of same-sex marriage 58 to 37%, reaffirming a generational gap on this issue.

An official date has not been declared for the House vote, but Congress members have mentioned that a decision may be made by March 6 or 7. Senate Bill 10 is just votes away from being signed into law, but the torn ideologies of House Members may delay a landmark progression for gay rights issues.