UPDATED 11/16/10 10:26 a.m.

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (CBS) – As they begin their lame duck session Tuesday, Illinois state lawmakers are expected to tackle the issue of whether the state should recognize civil unions for same-sex couples.

State Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) is the sponsor for HB 2234 to allow civil unions in Illinois.

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.

Rick Garcia, public policy director of the gay rights group Equality Illinois, left for Springfield Monday to lobby for the bill. He told Gay Chicago Magazine his confidence has grown that the bill can pass the state Senate, but the House is very close.

Garcia tells the magazine the bill will be called when there are 60 votes in the state Senate and 30 in the state House.

Gov. Pat Quinn has gone on record in favor of the measure.

Quinn called the civil unions proposal a “good” bill and said Harris was close to having enough support to pass it.

“To have a strong economy you embrace diversity,” Quinn said last week.

Quinn said it sends a message to companies when Illinois has laws that respect the diversity of the state.

Harris, of Chicago said Quinn’s victory for a full term earlier this month will help and lawmakers who may still be on the fence can also look to the victory of Republican U.S. Senator-elect Mark Kirk, who also supports civil unions.

“People sense there is really movement for this. This is not gay marriage,” Harris said.

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

Meanwhile, several religious organizations are coming out against the proposal. The Catholic Conference of Illinois and Chicago’s Francis Cardinal George are turning up the heat on lawmakers to oppose the measure.

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 told the Chicago Sun-Times that Iowa’s example ought to serve as a warning to any lawmaker expecting to return to Springfield.

While Quinn has long supported civil unions, his Republican opponent, state Sen. Bill Brady (R-Bloomington), had vowed during the campaign to veto civil unions legislation if he was elected governor.

He also sponsored a bill calling for a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and civil unions. The Feb. 10 bill would amend the Illinois Constitution “to provide that a marriage can only be between one man and one woman.” If approved it would also ban recognition any “uniting of persons of the same sex in a civil union, domestic partnership, or other similar same sex relationship.”

While Quinn polled well behind Brady for much of the gubernatorial campaign, he ultimately emerged victorious. Brady conceded the race on Nov. 5, after the final count had him behind by 19,413 votes.

Gay Chicago Magazine reported earlier this month that gay and lesbian voters played a significant role in Quinn’s victory.

An analysis of voting patterns found that in the city’s heavily gay north lakefront wards, Brady took only 28 percent of the vote in the 44th (Lakeview), 19 percent in the 46th (Uptown), 17 percent in the 48th (Edgewater/Andersonville) and less than 13 percent in the 49th (Rogers Park). By comparison, victorious Republican state comptroller candidate Judy Baar Topinka took between 25 and 42 percent in those wards, Gay Chicago Magazine reported.

“The Quinn campaign capitalized on Brady’s record on LGBT rights and other social issues such as abortion rights, which Brady also strongly opposes, and Quinn made a number of appearances at LGBT events to remind voters of the difference between his positions and Brady’s,” Gay Chicago Magazine reporter Gary Barlow wrote. “In contrast, Brady never once campaigned at an LGBT event in Chicago.”

The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.

(TM and © Copyright 2010 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS Radio and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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