MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
The clock is ticking for people who want Illinois to become the 13th state to legalize same-sex marriage. The Illinois Senate passed a marriage equality bill back in February, but the legislation has languished in the House, and supporters have been struggling to round up the 60 votes necessary to pass it.
NPR's David Schaper reports on why gay marriage is stalled in one of the Midwest's bluest states.
DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: In a small office on Chicago's north side, about a dozen volunteers sit in front of notebook computers holding cell phones to their ears, auto-dialing particular voters.
MAGGIE: Hi, my name's Maggie and I'm a volunteer with Illinois Unites for Marriage, the coalition fighting for marriage equality in Illinois...
MITCHELL LOCIN: We are calling lists of voters in targeted House districts.
SCHAPER: Mitchell Locin is media liaison for the LGBT rights group, Equality Illinois. He says the group is organizing phone banks every night of this, the last week of Illinois' legislative session.
LOCIN: Those House districts have a representative who we think might be convinced to vote for the marriage bill or who we think might already actually be a supporter, but needs that support buoyed by hearing from their constituents.
SCHAPER: In other words, they're trying to get gay marriage supporters to light up the phones in the offices of lawmakers who might still be on the fence. They include some suburban moderate Republicans, a few white and Latino Democrats in heavily Catholic districts, and many of the 20 African-American members of the Illinois House.
Opponents of the gay marriage bill are mounting a similar effort to defeat it, focusing heavily on the African-American community. Pastor Byron Brazier of the Apostolic Church of God of Chicago stood alongside other African-American clergy at a recent news conference.
BYRON BRAZIER: We're not standing against something. We're standing for something. We're standing for the scriptures as they are written.
SCHAPER: The ministers are preaching against gay marriage from the pulpit, airing ads on black radio and using robocalls.
JAMES MEEKS: Hi. This is Reverend James Meeks. I'm calling you because...
SCHAPER: Reverend Meeks heads up one of Chicago's biggest mega churches, Salem Baptist. And as a former state senator, he has significant influence.
MEEKS: Your representative needs to hear from you.
LAURA WASHINGTON: The church and politics is a very constant mix in Chicago and in Illinois.
SCHAPER: Political analyst, Laura Washington.
WASHINGTON: These ministers have mega churches, large congregations. They have a lot of clout in their communities and their members listen to them and take advice from them.
SCHAPER: But Washington points out that the religious community is divided on gay marriage and more and more African-American ministers here are supporting it, framing same-sex marriage as a civil rights issue.
JULIAN BOND: This is Julian Bond.
SCHAPER: And gay marriage supporters are blitzing residents in key African-American legislative districts with robocalls of their own, voiced by religious and civil rights leaders, including former NAACP chairman Julian Bond.
BOND: Gay and lesbian couples have the same values as everyone else - love, commitment and stable families.
SCHAPER: President Obama echoed that message at a private fundraising dinner here in Chicago last night, telling donors he deeply supports his home state's same-sex marriage bill. In remarks that were not recorded for broadcast, he added that the essence of America is that everybody is treated equally under the law without exception.
Since the legislation to legalize gay marriage was first introduced in Illinois, lawmakers in Rhode Island, Delaware and Minnesota have passed Illinois by and approved their own gay marriage bills. Illinois supporters insist they now have enough votes to pass it and they will call the marriage equality bill for a vote before the legislature adjourns tomorrow.
But opponents say if they really have the votes, they would have already passed it. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.