The Illinois House of Representatives on Tuesday passed a bill legalizing marriage equality, all but guaranteeing that the Prairie State would join 14 others and the District of Columbia in allowing gay couples to legally wed.
Lawmakers voted 61-54 in favor of SB10, also known as the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, a bill introduced by Democratic Rep. Greg Harris at the beginning of the year. The measure made it through a House committee last spring, but failed to garner enough support for Harris to feel confident putting it to a vote before the session ended last May.
Shortly after the House vote, Illinois’ state Senate gave final approval to the measure, sending it to the desk of Gov. Pat Quinn for signature. Quinn stood on the House floor as the legislation was considered, and said in a statement afterward: “Today, the Illinois House put our state on the right side of history.”
President Obama also commended the legislature's actions in a statement: "As president, I have always believed that gay and lesbian Americans should be treated fairly and equally under the law. Over time, I also came to believe that same-sex couples should be able to get married like anyone else. 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."
Opening debate on the floor Tuesday, two days before the fall session's conclusion, Rep. Harris said it was time to end the "unequal" treatment of gay couples who wish to marry.
"Loving same-sex couples will be able to publicly affirm their commitment to each other, and join their friends and neighbors in being treated equally in the eyes of the law," said Harris.
That spirit of equality was echoed by several others on both sides of the aisle, including GOP Rep. Ed Sullivan, who spoke of his gay mother-in-law, and Democratic Rep. Ann Williams, a co-sponsor who described Tuesday's vote as the most important of her life.
"There really is a sense of anticipation and a buzz around the capitol that this is the week we'll head back to our districts, and the landscape will be changed forever in terms of equality," said Williams to msnbc, prior to the debate. "It's exciting."
Williams said the gallery was packed with spectators wearing buttons and shirts in support of same-sex marriage. Springfield was flooded with marriage equality advocates two weeks ago at the start of the fall veto session.
Despite the air of excitement, however, the bill's passage was not without opposition.
"Redefining marriage has far-reaching implications for our society," said GOP Rep. Tom Morrison. "While some children in non-nuclear parent homes do OK, the risks increase for children when they're raised apart from both biological parents."
"A 'No' vote today does not mean that you're a bigot," said Morrison.
Others opposed the measure on religious grounds.
"My conviction happens to be that this is wrong; my conviction is that the scripture is right," said Republican Rep. Dwight Kay. "Whatever you do with wrong, I think we all know since we were children, that you can't change it. You can't paint it; you can't put glitter on it; you can't dress it up. In fact, you can't do anything to something that's wrong and make it right."
Supporters argue the bill would have no impact on religious freedom, and specifically allows leaders to practice their faith as they choose.
Once signed, the law will allow same-sex couples to begin marrying in June of 2014. Illinois is the 6th state this year to legalize marriage equality, and advocates are hoping to add a 7th--Hawaii--to that list this week.
As with several states, Illinois was pushed toward marriage equality in large part by a June Supreme Court ruling striking down a key portion of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Since that decision, which allowed legally married same-sex couples to receive all the federal benefits given to heterosexual spouses, arguments that same-sex couples were treated equally in being allowed to enter into civil unions--as in Illinois--began to collapse.