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Civil rights leader Julian Bond pushes Illinois House to legalize gay marriage

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NAACP_BOND_11187945.JPGFormer NAACP Chairman Julian Bond, shown in this July 8, 2007 file photo, encouraged Illinois House members Friday to legalize gay marriage, calling it "a universal right." (AP Photo)

SPRINGFIELD-Advocates for same-sex marriage in Illinois scored an important endorsement Friday in their bid to win over black Illinois House members, who may hold the key in determining whether legislation legalizing gay marriage passes.

Julian Bond, chairman of the NAACP from 1998 to 2009, signed a letter of support that went out to the Illinois House, which could take up the legislation when lawmakers return from their two-week spring break next week.

"I've experienced the joys of marriage for more than 20 years. My wife, Pamela, and I stood before our friends and family and made a lifelong commitment to one another. We've taken care of each other ever since," the civil rights leader and longstanding backer of gay marriage said in his letter.

"My gay and lesbian brothers and sisters simply want the freedom to make that same commitment. And they deserve the same protection that my wife and I have. It's just that simple," Bond said.

Bond's entry into Illinois' gay-marriage debate came the same day that Cardinal Francis George joined a group of African-American pastors in denouncing the legislative push and insisting marriage should only exist between a woman and a man.

Supporters of the legislation, Senate Bill 10, need 60 votes to pass the Illinois House, and House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) said last month the measure was about a dozen votes shy of meeting that threshold.

Since then, both sides of the contentious debate have been working the legislation. Between three and five House Republicans are expected to be on board, leaving supporters having to nail down backing from 55 to 57 out of a total of 71 House Democrats.

Black lawmakers have been the focus of much of the lobbying by both sides. Former state Sen. James Meeks (D-Chicago), pastor of Salem Baptist Church, has gone to work for opponents of gay marriage, agreeing to record an automated phone message aimed at voters in predominantly black legislative districts.

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