Gov. Pat Quinn stood up, thrusting an arm into the air holding the freshly signed bill that just made history: Same-sex marriage was now legal in Illinois. To thunderous applause in the University of Illinois at Chicago Forum on Wednesday, Illinois became the 16th state to legalize same-sex marriage. The forum was packed with a jubilant crowd made up of same-sex couples and equal rights activists.
Just a week after Hawaii became the 15th state to embrace marriage equality, Illinois joined the club late yesterday afternoon.
The Democratic governor signed the bill, which went through several fits and starts in the state legislature, on the desk Abraham Lincoln used to write his 1861 inaugural address. As the local NBC affiliate noted, the desk was "transported to Chicago for the bill signing from the Lincoln-Herndon Law Office in Springfield," and Quinn referenced Lincoln in his remarks.
"President Abraham Lincoln of Illinois said our nation was conceived in liberty, and he said it's dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal," the governor said. "And that's really what we're celebrating today, it's a triumph of democracy, a triumph of government of the people -- that we believe in liberty and equality, and we're making sure that's part of our law."
The measure will not take effect in Illinois until June 2014, though as Laura Clawson noted, state lawmakers may yet move up the date with a separate bill.
Taking a step back, it's rather remarkable to think that announcements like these have become almost routine -- it wasn't too long ago that a state allowing same-sex couples to get legally married was considered breaking, front-page news. Developments like these were a major national story.
But now that roughly a third of the nation's states extend equal-marriage rights to all of its citizens, our expectations have shifted. "Of course another state has embraced marriage equality," we say. "Bring on the next one."
And while this progress is heartening for those who celebrate the expansion of civil rights, it's worth appreciating every breakthrough as it happens. In time, 16 marriage-equality states will become 50, but until then, every step towards that goal is cause for celebration.