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Speaker Madigan: Gay marriage 12 votes shy in House

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SPRINGFIELD-The top Democrat in the Illinois House told reporters Wednesday that his chamber is just 12 votes short of moving same-sex marriage legislation to the governor's desk.

Madigan's assertion comes a month after the Illinois Senate narrowly passed the bill on Valentine's Day and a couple of weeks after a House panel advanced the measure to the House floor by a 6-5 vote. Gov. Pat Quinn has said he would sign the bill if it reaches his desk.

Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), the bill's chief House sponsor, thinks the speaker's claim may be a little off.

"I think it's a bit closer than that," he said. "I've not spoken to the speaker...but when we put it up on the board we're going to have 60 votes, and it's going to pass because this is what the majority of people in Illinois believe is the right thing to do."

A similar bill to the one Madigan is now supporting had failed to gather enough support during the Legislature's "lame-duck" session in January, but that was before certain protections for religious organizations were added to the language.

The legislation currently awaiting a vote in the House now has support from more than 300 clergy across the state in a signed open letter, according to gay-marriage coalition Illinois Unites for Marriage.

Among the clergymen are the Rev. B. Herbert Martin, former Mayor Harold Washington's minister, and the Rev. Otis Moss III, pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ, which is President Obama's former church on Chicago's South Side.

But one of the state's key religious figures - Cardinal Francis George - has stood staunchly against the same-sex marriage legislation and is leading a different group of clergy behind his cause to limit marriage to a bond between a man and a woman.

"This just shows the importance of why the government has to stay neutral in how we treat religion," Harris said. "And I respect the cardinal's position. That is a view of the faith as their church believes it."

Cardinal George had directly involved himself in the debate when he sent a letter urging lawmakers to vote against gay marriage legislation during the "lame-duck" session. Madigan made clear Wednesday that George is opposed to the current legislation as well and has called the speaker to make that view clear.

But does an Illinois House speaker outrank a Roman Catholic cardinal?

"Better be careful there," Madigan answered, smiling.

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