By LOU CHIBBARO JR. & CHRIS JOHNSON
The Illinois House of Representatives on Tuesday approved legislation to legalize same-sex marriage in the state; the Senate quickly followed suit, clearing the way for approval by Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, who has promised to sign the bill.
When the governor gives his 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, who’s gay, closed the debate on the legislation by acknowledging that people hold many different views on the issue, but the right action is a “yes” vote.
“At the end of the day, what this bill is about is love, what it’s about is family, what it’s about is commitment,” 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.
“Tonight, 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,” said President Barack Obama in a statement released by the White House.
“As president, I have always believed that gay and lesbian Americans should be treated fairly and equally under the law,” he said. “So tonight, Michelle and I are overjoyed for all the committed couples in Illinois whose love will now be as legal as ours – 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.”
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 “present” 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. The Senate voted quickly to approve a slightly revised House bill.
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 “it does get better.”
“This bill goes directly to how I am defined, how our family is defined by the state,” Cassidy said.
State Rep. Sam Yingling, who’s 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 “vast protections under this bill.”
“My 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,” 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.
“Where do any of you read that in this legislation?” Lang said. “My guess is that some of the people who have said that haven’t even read the bill.”
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.
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.
“Real marriage is the building block of human civilization,” the Chicago Tribune quoted Republican Rep. Tom Morrison as saying.
Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois, said the vote was “a victory for all families and their children” in the state.
“It 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,” 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.
“It’s 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,” he said. “So we’ve been aggressively pursuing it and it feels so good to finally be here.”