SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (STMW) – A push to recognize civil unions among same-sex couples is near having enough votes to pass the Illinois House, its main legislative backer predicted Tuesday, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

But opponents think support for the package has not increased since last May and actually may have slid, particularly given last week’s jolting voter-led recall of three Iowa Supreme Court justices who sanctioned gay marriage in that state.

Top Illinois Democrats, including Gov. Pat Quinn and Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago), want a civil unions vote in the veto session that begins Tuesday. It would be the state’s first expansion of gay rights since 2005.

“I think we’re awfully darned close,” said Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), one of two openly gay state lawmakers and a lead architect of the civil unions package.

The legislation, which does not recognize same-sex marriages, grants new spousal rights to same-sex partners in a civil union, putting them on par legally with heterosexual married couples when it comes to surrogate decision-making for medical treatment, survivorship, adoptions, and accident and health insurance, for example.

“People realize there are a lot of folks in Illinois at the crisis times of their lives who don’t have equal standing under the law and no protection under the law for themselves and their families,” Harris said. “Most reasonable-thinking people think it’s time we provide for that.”

Harris could not muster a floor vote on the legislation last May. But he said last week’s Illinois elections could help the initiative get out of the House, through the Senate and to the governor’s desk during the brief legislative session that could extend into January.

Harris noted that Quinn, who espoused civil unions during his campaign, won, and socially moderate GOP U.S. Senate candidate Mark Kirk outpolled Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Brady, an opponent of civil unions, in broad pockets of Illinois, including most of suburbia.

But Robert Gilligan, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois, estimated that Harris and his backers are hovering near the 50-vote threshold in the House, where 60 votes are needed for passage.

“Civil unions, for all intents and purposes, are practically the same as same-sex marriage,” said Gilligan, whose group is among five religious-based or socially conservative organizations against the legislation. “I don’t perceive there is a mandate in Illinois on civil unions or same-sex marriage.”

Gilligan said Iowa’s example ought to serve as a warning to any lawmaker expecting to return to Springfield.

“In suburban areas and rural Illinois, if I were a legislator, I’d clearly look at what happened in Iowa,” Gilligan said. “People won’t forget. Two years from now, they have to get back and get re-elected again.”

Dave McKinney, Chicago Sun-Times, via the Sun-Times Media Wire

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2010. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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