Lawmakers in Illinois and Rhode Island are set to consider same-sex marriage bills early this year, which could make them the 10th and 11th states to bring marriage equality to their residents.
Illinois fell just short of introducing a marriage equality bill last week before the end of the last legislative session, but lawmakers plan to put a bill forward after the new session starts January 9.
“We can no longer be the only New England state without marriage equality,” State Rep. Gordon Fox said in a statement. “Rhode Island must be next in enacting this basic civil right to marry the one you love.” The outlook on whether the bill will actually pass through the legislature is unclear.
Supporters in Illinois are more confident that their bill is a winner. “We’re still working in Springfield very actively,” says Jacob J. Meister, an attorney and chairman of the board of The Civil Rights Agenda, a group that has long advocated for same-sex marriage. “Even though the lame duck session is coming to an end, we’ve got people on the ground.”
“In Illinois, it’s not a question of if it’s going to happen, but when it’s going to happen,” Meister says. “The incoming general assembly is fairly strong on the issue. We’ve got a number of new members of the House and Senate who are proponents of marriage equality.”
Members of the LGBT community successfully campaigned against lawmakers who had voted against civil unions two years ago, resulting in a more gay-friendly lawmaking body.
“I think the common consensus in Illinois was that there was no member who was hurt for having voted for civil unions,” says Meister. “Clearly there was a price to pay for those members of the general assembly who were not on our side.”
The usual pro-discrimination forces have spoken out, such as the National organisation of Marriage which claims it will retaliate against lawmakers who support marriage equality. “Any Republican in Illinois who betrays the cause of marriage will be casting a career-ending vote and will be held accountable to their constituents,” NOM President Brian Brown said in a statement.
However, the threats may have fallen on deaf ears, as Illinois Republican Chairman Pat Brady has pledged support for the measure.
The efforts in Illinois and Rhode Island follow a wave of victories for civil rights proponents who saw unprecedented advances in 2012 with hopes of even bigger things to come in the upcoming year.
Maine on Dec. 30 became the second-to-last New England state to implement marriage equality. Maryland and Washington also recently put their LGBT marriage bills into effect after both joined Maine in becoming the first states to pass equality laws through a popular ballot last November.
LGBT marriage is also legal in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York and Washington, D.C.
In what could be more good news for supporters of equality, the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments on March 26 and 27 on two cases, after which the justices could vote to strike down the discriminatory defence of Marriage Act which bans federal recognition of same-sex partners, invalidate LGBT marriage bans in states nationwide, both, or neither.
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