Illinois Governor Pat Quinn holds up the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act after signing it into law, Nov. 20, 2013.
Jim Young/Reuters

Illinois becomes 16th state to legalize marriage equality

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It’s official: Illinois on Wednesday joined 15 other states and the District of Columbia in legalizing same-sex marriage.

Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, accompanied by state Rep. Greg Harris, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and several other dignitaries, signed into law a measure allowing gay couples to begin marrying on June 1. “It’s a triumph of democracy, a triumph of government by the people,” said the governor, shortly before signing. “We want to have a new birth of freedom across America, and love is not relegated to second-class citizen status.”

The historic nature of Wednesday’s ceremony was underscored by the desk Quinn used to sign the legislation, which once belonged to another Prairie State lawmaker: Abraham Lincoln. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Lincoln used the desk to pen his first inaugural address, delivered on March 4, 1861.

Thousands flooded the University of Illinois at Chicago Forum to watch the signing ceremony, which came two weeks after the legislature passed SB10, also known as the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act. Quinn legalized civil union legislation in 2011 and announced his support for full marriage equality a year later.

Since January, the LGBT movement has seen unprecedented gains, including two U.S. Supreme Court rulings strengthening same-sex unions, a Senate vote on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and the addition of seven states (including Illinois) to the U.S.’s marriage equality column. Hawaii legalized same-sex marriage just last week.

Quinn also paid tribute to the six Illinoisans killed by recent tornadoes that swept through the state. He later tweeted a photo of the signed bill:

Other speakers at Wednesday’s ceremony included Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel who lauded the end of “backward-looking laws” on marriage.

“With the governor’s signature, Illinois goes on record,” said Emanuel. “There is no straight or gay marriage. From now on there is only marriage in Illinois.”

One of the most special moments of the ceremony came when Jim Darby, a Korean War veteran, and his partner, Patrick Bova, shared a kiss on stage.

“We’ve been together for over 50 years,” said Bova to thunderous applause. “I can remember so many times when I was celebrating families’ and friends’ anniversaries, and thinking how wonderful it would be to celebrate my marriage to Jim. Finally, that day has come.”

Marriage Equality

Illinois becomes 16th state to legalize marriage equality

Updated