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State Rep. Ford pledges support for same-sex marriage

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ILLINOIS_LEGISLATURE_39026967.JPGState Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-Chicago), pictured here on the House floor earlier this month, told the Sun-Times Monday he will back a gay-marriage bill pending in the House. Ford was one of 12 undecided House Black Caucus votes revealed last week in a Sun-Times survey. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

***UPDATED***

SPRINGFIELD-State Rep. La Shawn Ford has joined the four other House Black Caucus members who publicly support same-sex marriage legislation, with the measure's fate uncertain as a Friday deadline looms.

"I got tons of calls in support, and the constant lobbying and support for the measure from those that believe this is a right they deserve is what really pushed it over the top," Ford (D-Chicago) told the Sun-Times on Monday.

"I just think that all the credit goes to the community that lobbied hard for the measure. It's a page out of the civil rights movement to show that when you work hard and come together, things change.

"And how do you vote against something where so many people have worked so hard to fight for?"

Ford had previously told the Sun-Times he was undecided but was leaning toward voting for the legislation, which could make Illinois the 13th state in the nation to allow same-sex couples to marry.

A Sun-Times survey last week identified four Black Caucus members who opposed the idea and 12 who remained undecided, with five of those leaning toward a 'yes' vote.

The 20 black House Democrats have become a pivotal swing-vote group largely because hundreds of influential black leaders and ministers have been barraging them with letters and phone calls on both sides of the issue.

Ford said the bill's protections for churches against lawsuits were one reason for his support and said it's the prerogative of ministers to wrestle with any moral objections they may have.

"If they think they need to save the souls of people that are looking to get married, then that's their job," he said. "That's their mission."

Asked if President Barack Obama's or former President Bill Clinton's support for same-sex marriage had any sway over Ford's support, he said it "played no role in [his] decision."

"Politics are local, and what's good for Washington is not always good for Illinois. I understand my district better than President Obama, and that's the way I operate - based on my constituents."

Still, Ford conceded voting for Senate Bill 10 could hurt some members politically.

"But how can I deny access to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness when I have an opportunity to vote for it?" Ford asked. "It can help spread love. And how could you be against love?"

State Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), the same-sex marriage bill's chief House sponsor, said Ford's shift suggests a broader endorsement across the state.

"I think what Rep. Ford did is emblematic of the fact that there is growing support," Harris told the Sun-Times. "As I've said before, I think as people think about this, as people talk to their constituents they see the direction the state is moving.

"This is not just an issue with the city, but the Collar Counties, central Illinois and southern Illinois. People are believing this is the right thing to do."

While the measure's chances of passing have been in constant limbo since the Senate approved the bill on Valentine's Day, Ford said he thinks the bill will be voted on by Friday and will have votes to spare.

"I think it'll probably get 63 or 64 [votes]," he said. "Greg Harris is a smart legislator and he understands - he counts the numbers. And he measures twice and cuts once. So, he's going to be ready."

Harris, who said he expects a vote by Friday, wouldn't say whether Ford's assessment of the roll call was a fair account but acknowledged his bill wasn't losing support.

"Every time my roll call moves, it moves in the right direction," he said.

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