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updated: 10/5/2010 9:41 PM

Quinn hopeful on civil unions

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Gov. Pat Quinn said Tuesday he believes civil unions, agreements legally recognized to give gay and lesbian partners rights and benefits, could be passed into law by the time "Christmas comes around.

"The votes are there, I believe, Quinn said. "In the Senate for sure, and definitely I think we can do it in the House.

He called himself a "strong advocate of civil unions, which would give partners the same rights and responsibilities to adoption, emergency health care decisions and property ownership, among other things, that married couples have.

While he believes there is enough support among Democrats and Republicans for a new General Assembly to pass the measure in 2011, he said he thinks it will be taken up before then, during the fall veto session.

"I think we can pass it this year. I would like to see it voted on earlier, Quinn said.

The comments came at a Daily Herald editorial endorsement interview, where Quinn cited a "need to encourage tolerance in the state.

Quinn said wasn't opposed to legalizing gay marriage in Illinois. He said he wouldn't "stand in the way, if "the voters of Illinois want to have it come to pass.

But polls consistently show that residents are more supportive of civil unions than gay marriages, said state Rep. Greg Harris, a Chicago Democrat and sponsor of legislation that would legalize civil unions in Illinois, beginning in 2011.

That legislation passed out of committee last spring, but has not yet been called for a vote.

To pass, it would need a simple majority of votes in both chambers.

Harris was hesitant to say whether he believed he had enough votes for the measure in the upcoming veto session, which starts Nov. 16.

"It's a very high profile issue, he said. "It's not in my interest to have show votes to call people out on it. ... This election, it's a difficult environment to run around and ask people how they would vote on something.

Each year since 2007, Harris has filed separate pieces of legislation that would legalize both civil unions and gay marriage.

"Clearly the one the larger number of my colleagues are willing to entertain is a civil union bill, Harris said. "It's fairly reflective of the polling of their districts. People are still coming to terms of marriage as consecrated by their church and the marriage recognized by the government.

Quinn's opponent, state Sen. Bill Brady, opposes both civil unions and gay marriages.

"I believe in traditional marriage. Marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman, he wrote in an editorial board questionnaire.

Brady this February introduced a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriages and civil unions. He has since been removed as a sponsor.

"It became apparent he was not going to have the time to shepherd the legislation, spokeswoman Patti Schuh said.

According to the National Council of State Legislatures, New Jersey is the only state currently to only recognize civil unions. Connecticut, Vermont and New Hampshire each moved to replace civil unions with same-sex marriage within the last year, joining Iowa, Massachusetts, Washington, D.C., and California (though California's is stuck in a court battle).

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