Lawmakers in Illinois are expected to begin laying the ground work for a possible gay marriage debate in 2013, gay weekly Windy City Times reported.

Lawmakers and pro-equality organizations are meeting to discuss the possibility of introducing the measure next year.

“I do not delude myself into thinking this will be an easy process,” State Rep. Greg Harris told the paper. “But we need to take the first step.”

A civil unions law that gives gay and lesbian couples most of the protections of marriage took effect on June 1, 2010 after years of lobbying by gay rights activists. More than 3,700 gay couples have taken advantage of the law in its first six months.

Also involved in the preliminary talks are Representatives Deb Mell, Ann Williams, Kelly Cassidy, Sara Feigenholtz and Senator Heather Steans. Organizations backing the effort are Equality Illinois, the American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal, the Civil Rights Agenda, Log Cabin Republicans and the Human Rights Campaign, among others.

The groups hope to shore up the number of pro-marriage equality lawmakers elected this November.

“We have to be ready to stand up and defend the gains that we've made and to look toward the next steps,” Harris added.