Chicago mayoral candidates are joining in support of an Illinois bill that would recognize gay and lesbian couples with civil unions.

Lawmakers are expected to take up openly gay State Representative Greg Harris' bill on Tuesday. The bill passed out of committee last spring, but lawmakers have yet to vote on it.

Gery Chico has joined rivals Rahm Emanuel and Carol Moseley Braun in urging lawmakers to approve the bill. Governor Pat Quinn has said he wants to sign the bill into law this year.

“This is a civil rights issue,” Chico, a lawyer and civic leader, told supporters on Sunday, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. “It's just that easy. And it's not the end of the line but the road to looking at same-sex marriage.”

Emanuel, who resigned as White House chief of staff in September to run for the post after Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley announced he wouldn't seek a seventh term, also supports the legislation and has pledged to lobby lawmakers on behalf of the bill.

“I think we should be guided by our hopes and not our fears,” former U.S Senator Braun recently told “This is an issue of fundamental civil rights for people.”

At least one candidate is opposed to the bill, Pentecostal mega-church leader Wilfredo De Jesus.

Also objecting is the Catholic Church, which said in a statement last week that the “public understanding of marriage will be negatively affected by passage of a bill that ignores the natural fact that sexual complementarity is at the core of marriage.”

If approved, Illinois would join New Jersey in offering the union. Lawmakers in Hawaii are also likely to revisit the issue early next year.