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Final Vote On Illinois Marriage Equality Bill Today

“Today is the day,” an LGBT rights advocate told BuzzFeed. Watch the debate live.

Marriage equality supporters gathered on the steps of the Illinois Capitol on Oct. 22. Tony Merevick/BuzzFeed

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The Illinois House will take a final vote on marriage equality legislation Tuesday, a leading advocate tells BuzzFeed. Previously, sources had said a vote would not take place until Wednesday at the earliest.

“Today is the day,” said Anthony Martinez, executive director of The Civil Rights Agenda.

As lawmakers began Tuesday’s session, Rep. Greg Harris, the chief sponsor of the marriage equality bill in the House, amended its language to change the date the legislation would go into effect, and to seemingly reiterate exemptions for private clubs that do not want to host marriages for same-sex couples.

The amendment, a major sign of possible action on the bill, removes language containing the 30-day effective date, which will allow Harris to pass the bill with only 60 votes instead of 71. Rules dictate that bills passed in this “veto session” like this can go into effect June 1, 2014.

But Rep. Ken Dunkin (D-Chicago), a co-sponsor of the bill and chair of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus said that some black lawmakers are uneasy about taking “an early vote” on Senate Bill 10, the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act.

“What members are talking about is what is the rush for an early vote now rather than taking a vote in January,” Dunkin told reporters in the House gallery. “Members are still circulating petitions, and that’s something that I have to be concerned with. The time is right now, but other members in the Black Caucus don’t think so.”

If passed in the House, the bill will be sent back to the Senate for a vote. The Senate already approved the previous version of the bill earlier this year.

Earlier Tuesday, the question of “if” the bill will be called during the final days of the fall “veto session” this week gave way to “when” the bill will be called this week, according to a source in leadership of Illinois Unites for Marriage, a coalition of advocates backing the bill.

Harris has not revealed the number of “yes” votes he expects the bill to have. Sources say the current count stands at 58 or 59 and that several factors are at play Tuesday, such as the possibility of absent lawmakers.

“Right now we are taking a wait-and-see approach and before any decisions can be made, we have to see who is here when we gavel in,” Rep. Sam Yingling, a co-sponsor of the bill, told BuzzFeed. “There is a possibility that there will be absent ‘yes’ votes.”

Meanwhile, additional signs are pointing to action on the bill.

Just hours before the session was slated to start, Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth announced her support for the bill, the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, in an op-ed published in the Peoria Journal-Star. “Many conversations over the last several months with constituents, clergy members, community leaders and legal scholars only bolster my conviction that it is the right course for our state,” she wrote.

On Monday, staffers from the office of House Speaker Michael Madigan conducted a roll call by phone to gauge support for the measure among the chamber’s 71 Democrats, lawmakers who were polled told BuzzFeed. In addition, the speaker has personally called a number of members to urge their support for the bill.

“I have heard from members that the speaker has called them,” said Rick Garcia, policy director at The Civil Rights Agenda and longtime LGBT rights activist. “So he is working the bill, and that is a very positive thing, because in May, the speaker was not making calls.”

On May 31, Harris tearfully announced that he would not call the bill in the final hours of the spring session because his colleagues needed more time to consult with their constituents on the issue over the summer. Many LGBT activists pointed to inaction by Madigan as a factor in the failure.

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