December 29, 2012 | by Chris Johnson
Obama urges passage of Ill. marriage equality
President Obama speaks for the Democratic National Convention

President Barack Obama has come out for marriage equality in Illinois (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The White House announced on Saturday in a Chicago newspaper that President Obama supports the legalization of same-sex marriage in the state where he once served as both a state legislator and a U.S. senator.

Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, was quoted in an Chicago Sun-Times article as saying President Obama would vote in favor of marriage equality in Illinois and that position is consistent with his earlier stated belief that same-sex couples should be able to marry. The Washington Blade independently confirmed Obama’s support for the measure.

“While the president does not weigh in on every measure being considered by state legislatures, he believes in treating everyone fairly and equally, with dignity and respect,” Inouye said.

“As he has said, his personal view is that it’s wrong to prevent couples who are in loving, committed relationships, and want to marry, from doing so,” Inouye said. “Were the President still in the Illinois State Legislature, he would  support this measure that would treat all Illinois couples equally.”

The statement is similar to previous statements Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign published in Maine, Maryland and Washington State newspapers prior to Election Day urging voters in those states to approve marriage equality at the ballot. But the Illinois statement marks the first time that Obama has publicly backed a measure other than a ballot initiative in favor of same-sex marriage.

Bills to legalize marriage equality were introduced in the Illinois House and Senate in February almost a year ago. Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago) and out State Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) are the chief sponsors of the legislation.

Bolstered by the wins for marriage equality at the ballot on Election Day, supporters of the legislation in Illinois have indicated they’ll push for passage of the bills before the current legislative session ends on Jan. 8. Gov. Pat Quinn (D) has already announced his support for marriage equality.

Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois, said in a statement on Saturday that Obama’s support makes clear the state “should join the ever-building national consensus for marriage equality.”

“With the President’s statement, Illinois lawmakers should fully understand that voting for the freedom to marry puts them on the right side of history,” Cherkasov added. “We appreciate the President’s call to action in the Illinois General Assembly as lawmakers prepare to return to Springfield in the days ahead. President Obama faced no political repurcussions from his support of marriage for gays and lesbians, and neither should members of the Illinois House and Senate.”

Obama’s support for the marriage equality legislation in Illinois is also noteworthy because he served as both a state and federal lawmaker in the state before winning election to the White House. From 1997 to 2004, Obama was a state senator in the Illinois Legislature, and from 2005 to 2008, Obama represented the state in the U.S. Senate.

Obama actually backed marriage equality when he first pursued a seat in the Illinois State Senate. In 1996, Obama wrote as a state legislative candidate in a signed questionnaire response to what is the now the Windy City Times, “I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages.”

That position was dropped as Obama continued public service until May, when Obama endorsed marriage equality during an ABC News interview.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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