Illinois’ only openly gay state lawmaker announced his retirement on Monday, setting into motion a likely scramble to fill his North Side seat, according to The Chicago Sun-Times.

The Sun-Times reports that State Representative Larry McKeon, one of the architects of the 2003 state anti-discrimination law for gays and lesbians, said he intends to step down at the end of his fifth term in January 2007.

Mr McKeon, 62, won an uncontested primary last spring, ensuring another term. But he had a series of health problems last year, including an AIDS diagnosis and colorectal cancer, although he said both ailments are “under control” and not the basis for his retirement.

“My plan is to do a lot of reading, some writing. I’ve been toying with a book on politics in Chicago’s gay and lesbian community, which I haven’t been able to focus on given my current level of commitment. I’m not going away,” said Mr McKeon, who added he might try his hand at lobbying.

According to The Associated Press, Mr McKeon urged committeemen in the 13th District to appoint Illinois Commission on Human Rights lawyer Jim Snyder as his successor. Mr Snyder, who also is openly gay, is a McKeon campaign volunteer and described by the lawmaker as a “highly, highly qualified candidate.”

“I think if the community were to lose this seat, it would disenfranchise an entire community, not only here on the North Side of Chicago but throughout the whole state,” Mr McKeon said. “I receive calls from people throughout the state who feel they have no representation with discrimination and health care.”

He acknowledged there may be three or four other potential candidates for the fall ballot.

According to The Springfield State Journal-Register, for years, Mr McKeon sought passage of a measure that would add gays and lesbians to the list of groups protected under the Illinois Human Rights Act. The act prohibits discrimination in housing, employment and other areas based on an individual’s race, gender, age, marital status, religion or disability.

After the House narrowly rejected the legislation in 1999, Mr McKeon singled out some Republican lawmakers and said he was especially disappointed with their lack of support because they have gay or lesbian relatives. He later apologised for his remarks.

Six years later, the gay-rights bill won approval in the House and Senate. Governor Rod Blagojevich signed it into law.

“That’s one of many things that I’m very, very proud of,” he said on Monday.

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