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Illinois gay marriage supporters rally, vote uncertain

By Mary Wisniewski

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Carrying rainbow flags and umbrellas, hundreds of gay rights advocates marched during a chilly rain at the Illinois Capitol on Tuesday to pressure lawmakers to legalize same sex marriage, but it was unclear if the measure would be brought to a vote.

The state Senate, where President Barack Obama once served, voted on Valentine's Day 2013 to legalize gay marriage in Illinois. But the full state House of Representatives never considered the bill amid uncertainty whether it had the votes to pass.

The delay frustrated gay rights supporters in a state with a Democratic supermajority in both chambers of the legislature and a Democratic governor who supports gay marriage.

Civil unions for gay and lesbian couples are legal in Illinois, but activists said this does not go far enough.

"Civil unions really don't get us there," said Kelly Cassidy, a Chicago House Democrat and co-sponsor of the gay marriage bill, adding that civil unions do not guarantee benefits to gay partners.

Since the Illinois bill stalled, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling

reinstated gay marriage in California, and New Jersey's high court approved it, bringing to 14 the number of states and the District of Columbia that have legalized gay nuptials.

But it was unclear if the Illinois sponsors will succeed in taking a vote in the state House of Representatives during its fall session, which began on Tuesday and extends to early November. The state's lawmakers are preoccupied with a financial crisis stemming from the mounting costs of pensions for public workers such as teachers.

Michael Madigan, the House speaker, personally supports gay marriage, but his spokesman, Steve Brown, said it was up to the bill's sponsor to bring it to a vote.

Opponents of same sex marriage have focused on the more conservative and rural areas of the state and some African-American districts in Chicago.

Tens of thousands of "robo-calls" opposing the bill were being placed to Illinois residents in 14 districts, starting Monday and continuing through the fall session, according to Paul Caprio, director of Family-Pac, an Illinois political action group opposed to gay marriage. A rally against gay marriage is planned for Wednesday in Springfield.

The African American Clergy Coalition, a group of Chicago ministers, started running anti-gay marriage ads on the four major Chicago-area black radio stations on Tuesday, said spokesman Sean Howard.

Chicago Roman Catholic Cardinal Francis George has also opposed the measure.

The "Rainbow Sash Movement," a group of gay and lesbian Catholics, has encouraged people to gather at Springfield's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception later on Tuesday to pray a rosary for marriage equality.

Springfield Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki called the proposed action "blasphemous" and said that anyone wearing a rainbow sash or who otherwise identified themselves as being with the movement would not be admitted to the cathedral, and anyone who gets up to pray for same-sex marriage will be asked to leave.

A poll of 600 voters commissioned last week by Equality Illinois, which supports gay rights, found that 52 percent of likely Illinois voters say they would support a law legalizing gay marriage, while 40 percent would oppose it. The same poll found some 61 percent of Catholics said they supported same-sex marriage. The poll had a plus or minus 4 percent margin of error.

(Reporting by Mary Wisniewski; Additional reporting by Karen Pierog; Editing by Greg McCune and Leslie Gevirtz)

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