SPRINGFIELD (AP) — A Republican leader in the Illinois House said Monday that his support for legalizing gay marriage in the state could persuade colleagues to join him on an issue he says has "tremendous momentum."
Rep. Ed Sullivan Jr. of Mundelein said his position is influenced by his mother-in-law, who has been in a lesbian relationship for about 20 years.
"Because my mother-in-law is gay, I have a more familiar and fair understanding of people who are in same-sex relationships," Sullivan said. "Everybody has a friend or a co-worker or a relative that's gay. And as Americans, we believe in social justice, we believe in fairness."
A state representative since 2003, Sullivan is the second House Republican to back gay marriage, but the first member of the GOP leadership team, serving as one of Minority Leader Tom Cross's floor leaders.
U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, Illinois' top Republican, announced his support last week. Although Kirk doesn't have a vote in Springfield, he's only the second U.S. Senate Republican to favor the idea and his advocacy, like Sullivan's backing, could also influence state lawmakers.
"There is tremendous momentum for marriage equality in Illinois," Sullivan said. " ... I wanted to show people that there are Republicans who are going to support marriage equality and that do believe in equal rights and equal protection under the law."
The Illinois Senate voted in February to give same-sex couples all the legal rights of traditional marriage. House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat, predicted a few weeks ago the measure was about a dozen votes shy of the 60 needed to send it to a supportive Gov. Pat Quinn. Advocates say the gap is narrower.
"We are very close," Quinn told reporters in Chicago on Monday. "We're going to get it done."