The Illinois House of Representatives on Tuesday narrowly approved legislation to legalize same-sex marriage in the state, clearing the way for final passage by the state Senate and approval by Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, who has promised to sign the bill.
When the Senate and governor give their stamp of approval of the Religious Freedom and Marriage Equality Act, as expected, the legislation would take effect June 1, 2014, making Illinois the 15th state plus the District of Columbia to grant marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.
State Rep. Greg Harris, whoâs gay, closed the debate on the legislation by acknowledging that people hold many different views on the issue, but the right action is a ãyesä vote.
ãAt the end of the day, what this bill is about is love, what itâs about is family, what itâs about is commitment,ä Harris said.
Following the remarks, Harris held up an American flag he said he received from an Illinois soldier currently serving in Afghanistan. Harris said the soldier asked him to legalize same-sex marriage in Illinois, so when he returns home, he could marry.
President Obama praised the vote in a statement released Tuesday night.
ãTonight, I applaud the men and women of the Illinois General Assembly, a body in which I was proud to serve, for voting to legalize marriage equality in my home state,ä said President Barack Obama in a statement released by the White House.
ãAs president, I have always believed that gay and lesbian Americans should be treated fairly and equally under the law,ä he said. ãSo tonight, Michelle and I are overjoyed for all the committed couples in Illinois whose love will now be as legal as ours ö and for their friends and family who have long wanted nothing more than to see their loved ones treated fairly and equally under the law.ä
Following nearly three hours of debate, the Illinois House voted 61-54 to approve the legislation under rules that required 60 votes to pass the measure in the 118-member body. Two members voted ãpresentä and another was absent.
The vote came after the Illinois Senate voted 34-21 to approve a slightly different version of the bill on Feb. 14. Nearly everyone familiar with the legislature expects the Senate to approve the House version.
The House version includes a change of the date on which the law would take effect and expands the exemption for religious or religious affiliated private organizations, such as the Knights of Columbus, from having to allow their facilities to be used for same-sex weddings or celebrations.
State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, a lesbian, also spoke on the floor, saying the bill is personally important to her because it would send a message to her family and other families like hers in the state that ãit does get better.ä
ãThis bill goes directly to how I am defined, how our family is defined by the state,ä Cassidy said.
State Rep. Sam Yingling, whoâs gay, similarly referenced his family, saying the legislation is important to him and his three children. Addressing assertions the bill provides insufficient protections to religious institutions, Yingling gave assurances there are ãvast protections under this bill.ä
ãMy God stands with me and my family today as we are all created in his image and he never turns his back on his children,ä Yingling said.
Deputy Majority Rep. Lou Lang spoke out in favor of the bill by decrying the arguments that opponents have used against it, which he said includes accusations the bill opens the door to litigation and polygamy.
ãWhere do any of you read that in this legislation?ä Lang said. ãMy guess is that some of the people who have said that havenât even read the bill.ä
State Rep. Sara Feigenholtz read a letter she said was from a child adopted by a gay male couple, becoming teary-eyed when she came to a part where the child wrote that her previous foster parents had broken their promise to provide love, but not her gay adoptive parents.
Although the bill was initially written to go into effective immediately, it was amended to make the effective date June 1 to lessen the votes needed for passage during the veto session. The Senate will have to agree to the amendment now that the bill has passed the House.
Lawmakers opposing the bill said it would take away religious freedom in the state by redefining marriage and challenging the religious beliefs of those whose faith tells them marriage must be a union only between a man and a woman.
ãReal marriage is the building block of human civilization,ä the Chicago Tribune quoted Republican Rep. Tom Morrison as saying.
Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois, said the vote was ãa victory for all families and their childrenä in the state.
ãIt was a victory for hundreds of clergy who joined forces in support of the law, and for scores of major employers who made the business case for equality, and for parents who just wanted all their children to be treated the same,ä Cherkasov said.
Anthony Martinez, executive director of The Civil Rights Agenda, an Illinois
LGBT rights organization, credited rank and file LGBT people and their supporters throughout the state for pushing their representatives in the legislature to support the marriage equality bill in a campaign that took several years.
ãItâs taken thousands of Illinoisans to do the heavy lifting to get to this point, contacting their representatives and just normal, everyday folks speaking out as to why they feel this is something Illinois should adopt,ä he said. ãSo weâve been aggressively pursuing it and it feels so good to finally be here.ä