A new poll in Illinois finds the public backing marriage rights for gay couples 50 – 29 percent, with 20 percent unsure. This issue is being debated in the legislature – so this is more a backgrounder on public opinion and pressure on lawmakers than a prediction about a referendum. To my mind, this is the most interesting nugget:

In a bit of a surprise, intensity of feeling is strongest among supporters of legalization.

Of the 50 percent who favor passage statewide, 37 percent do so “strongly” and 13 percent “somewhat” — an almost 3-1 margin. Among opponents, 19 percent “strongly oppose” passage, compared with 10 percent who “somewhat oppose” passage — about a 2-1 margin. The differing splits are within the survey’s accuracy range but may indicate that lawmakers face as much or more political risk voting “no” as they do “yes.”

That’s a big change from the 1990s. The State Senate has passed an equality measure by 34-21. The House is supposed to be less favorable. But the vote could come soon. Stay tuned. Illinois would be a critical huge state, like New York and California, in persuading Supreme Court Justices it isn’t such a big deal to rule on this in a reformist direction. The public and state legislatures are currently ahead of the court.