President Barack Obama is urging the Illinois General Assembly to legalize gay marriage in his home state as lawmakers are poised to take up the measure as early as this week in Springfield.
"While the president does not weigh in on every measure being considered by state legislatures, he believes in treating everyone fairly and equally, with dignity and respect," White House spokesman Shin Inouye told the Chicago Sun-Times on Saturday.
"As he has said, his personal view is that it's wrong to prevent couples who are in loving, committed relationships, and want to marry, from doing so. Were the President still in the Illinois State Legislature, he would support this measure that would treat all Illinois couples equally," Inouye said.
The lead sponsors of the "Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act," state Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago) and state Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), intend to put the measure up for a vote during the upcoming January lame-duck session.
The toughest challenge for gay marriage backers will be winning passage in the Illinois House. Prospects for approval in the Illinois Senate--where Obama once served--are brighter.
The practical impact of Obama urging his home state to legalize gay marriage is to prod--and give political cover to--reluctant Democrats from conservative suburban and Downstate districts.
Both chambers in Springfield are controlled by Democrats. Republicans cannot be depended on for widespread gay marriage support. Sun-Times Springfield Bureau Chief Dave McKinney has reported that Steans and Harris predicted there would be some Republican backing.
Illinois passed a civil union law effective June 1, 2011. When lawmakers took up civil unions, only one Senate Republican voted for the bill--current Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford.
While Obama rarely gets involved in statehouse battles, he has voiced support for gay marriage measures in the past year, issuing -- through his re-election campaign -- statements of support for gay marriage ballot questions up last November in Maine, Maryland and Washington. Those initiatives won, and a Minnesota referendum to ban gay marriage -- which Obama also publicly opposed -- lost.
Obama himself endorsed gay marriage in May after grappling with the issue for several years. "At a certain point I've just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married," Obama told ABC's Robin Roberts.
The leading Democrats in Illinois, Gov. Pat Quinn and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama's former chief of staff, are urging lawmakers to send Quinn a gay marriage bill he can sign.