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Illinois lawmakers hope to OK gay marriage in Jan.

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Two Illinois lawmakers said Thursday they will seek legislative approval of gay marriage when the General Assembly reconvenes in three weeks, answering Gov. Pat Quinn's hope that he could sign same-sex marital rights into law as early as January.

Rep. Greg Harris and Sen. Heather Steans, both Chicago Democrats, declined to say the status of roll-call votes in each chamber during a conference call with reporters. But Steans said "we're in striking distance of being able to get it done."

Harris and Steans, who both played major roles in bringing civil unions for domestic partners to Illinois just 18 months ago, said support for gay marriage has been rapidly gaining speed. President Barack Obama spoke in favor of it earlier this year. Voters in four states either endorsed gay marriage or repudiated bans on it in the November election.

"It's very straightforward. We treat all couples with the same respect and dignity in the eyes of the law and we protect the rights of religious institutions to either consecrate or not consecrate marriages within their faith as they see fit," Harris said. "It's very important that government not involve itself in religion on either side of the issue."

If the General Assembly approves and Democrat Quinn signs it, it would take effect July 1, Harris said.

Nine states currently allow gay marriage. Harris and Steans said Illinois would recognize same-sex marriages in other states and those who have entered civil unions in Illinois could apply for a marriage license like anyone else.

The issue is not strictly a partisan one. Opponents to civil unions included some southern Illinois Democrats, while some suburban Republicans supported it. But Steans says constituents are more open about telling their legislators they believe a gay family member should be treated no differently than one who is straight.

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Contact John O'Connor at https://www.twitter.com/apoconnor.

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The bill is HB5170.

Online: http://www.ilga.gov

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