SPRINGFIELD -- Illinois Senate Democrats delayed a floor vote Thursday on legislation to make the state the 10th in the nation to legalize gay marriage, but the sponsor expressed confidence there would be enough votes to pass it soon.
After two days of snags in moving the issue, Sen. Heather Steans finally won committee approval by an 8-5 vote Thursday evening, sending the measure next to the floor.
But when supporters would get a crack at the divisive issue there remained unclear. Democrats called off a full Senate vote earlier Thursday after Steans said two supportive Democrats and a Republican weren't present for the General Assembly's lame-duck session.
But the Chicago Democrat said the delay would only push a vote into next week or, at the latest, soon after the new Legislature is sworn in Jan. 9.
"This is definitely a question of when, not if," Steans said. "This is the right thing to be doing."
Senate Democrats hold a 35-24 majority, but party members outside Chicago don't always toe the line. Not all are on board with extending marriage rights to same-sex couples.
The postponement was another jolt in a bumpy ride for the issue this week, which began with high expectations but also fierce opposition.
Religious leaders -- including a phalanx of 1,700 clergy, from Catholic to Muslim -- united in writing lawmakers to oppose it.
Meanwhile, supporters of same-sex marriage have made a huge push in recent weeks, including Illinois GOP Chairman Pat Brady of St. Charles making phone calls seeking support and visits in Naperville and Springfield from "Modern Family" star Jesse Tyler Ferguson.
"I don't think the government should be in the business of telling people who can and can't get married," Brady said Thursday.
Advocates finally had something to cheer when the legislation won approval in the influential Senate Executive Committee Thursday, controlled by the Senate President, John Cullerton of Chicago. The meeting was delayed for hours as Democrats scrambled to shore up support.
One Democrat was out of the country and another had a family issue to attend, while a GOP supporter was absent because of her mother's death.
• Daily Herald State Government Writer Mike Riopell contributed to this story.