February 14, 2013 at 3:15 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Illinois Senate approves same-sex marriage bill

Greg Harris, gay news, Washington Blade

Gay Illinois state Rep. Greg Harris. (Photo by Leah Jones via Wikimedia)

The Illinois Senate on Thursday approved a bill that would allow gays and lesbians to marry in the state.

The 34-21 vote came after more than an hour of debate.

“This is about equal protection under the law,” state Sen. Toi Hutchinson (D-Chicago Heights) said.

“The sky is not falling,” state Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) added.

State Sen. Jason Barickman (R-Pontiac) is the only Republican who voted for the bill. State Sens. Gary Forby (D-Benton,) William Haine (D-Alton) and John Sullivan (D-Rushville) opposed the measure, while four other Democrats either voted present or abstained.

Sen. Kyle McCarter (R-Lebanon) predicted the measure would force teachers to include same-sex marriage in their curricula. He also said it would adversely affect bed and breakfasts, florists and other wedding-related businesses.

“People will be discriminated against,” McCarter said as supporters who gathered inside the chamber laughed. “Promises from the proponents that this bill will not discriminate; that’s not true.”

Gay state Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago,) who co-sponsored the measure with state Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago,) applauded the vote.

“The momentum is building,” he said. “More and more House members are telling me they want to be on the right side of history and that they intend to support the bill.”

President Obama, Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Illinois Republican Party Chair Pat Brady are among those who had urged legislators to back the measure.

“While this historic day is only half the battle, the Senate today put Illinois on the road to recognizing that, as President Obama said in his inaugural address, ‘the love we commit to one another must be equal,’” Equality Illinois CEO Bernard Cherkasov said.

Same-sex marriage advocates from across the country also celebrated the bill’s passage.

“We thank the Illinois Senate for passing this historic bill, making this a sweet Valentine’s Day for loving same-sex couples across the state,” Jim Bennett of Lambda Legal said. “The momentum for marriage continues on this day American holiday honoring love and commitment, and we now urge the House of Representatives to join the right side of history and grant same-sex couples the dignity and respect of marriage.”

“We celebrate this wonderful gift of love on Valentine’s Day as the bill moves for consideration in the state House,” Maureen McCarty, online content and marketing manager for the Human Rights Campaign, wrote on the organization’s website.

The vote took place less than a month after the Rhode Island House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a bill that would allow same-sex couples to marry in the Ocean State. Delaware and New Jersey lawmakers are expected to consider the issue in the coming weeks and months.

Illinois is among the handful of states that currently allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions. Maryland is among the nine states and D.C. that permit gays and lesbians to marry.

“Couples across Illinois have even more reason today to celebrate their love for each other, thanks to the hard work of committed advocates and lawmakers,” Gov. Pat Quinn said in a statement shortly after the vote. “This historic legislation will strengthen our state by allowing all committed couples to enjoy the same legal protections and benefits of marriage.”

The Illinois House of Representatives is expected to consider the bill in the coming weeks.

“The vote today for marriage was even stronger than the vote in fact for civil unions,” Cherkasov told the Washington Blade. “We came out from that with a really strong momentum.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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