On Tuesday, Illinois lawmakers approved a bill that will soon make that state the 15th in the country to legalize gay marriage.
The bill, introduced by Senator Heather Steans (D) in January of this year, originally passed the Senate in February, but was delayed for vote in the House until the October and November veto session of this year.
On Tuesday, in a narrow vote of 61 to 54, the Illinois House passed an amended version of the bill, which was quickly approved by the Senate, thereby sending it to the desk of Governor Pat Quinn (D) to be signed into law. An aide for Governor Quinn says he will do so by the end of this month.
“Today the Illinois House put our state on the right side of history,” said Quinn, who campaigned for the measure. Once he signs the bill into law, same-sex couples can begin applying for marriage licenses as soon as June 1.
Same-sex civil unions have been legal in Illinois since 2011, but the fight for marriage equality in the state has been a long and hard one. Gay marriage legislation has been introduced by Senator Steans and Representative Greg Harris (D) almost every year since 2007, and failed every time.
For supporters of the bill, then, Tuesday’s vote marked a hard-fought victory in the state.
“The first thought that popped into my mind was all those families around the state that I’ve met over the past five years in fighting for marriage equality,” said Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of the gay rights group Equality Illinois. “The couples, their parents, their children, all who have waited for this moment.”
“And I thought about my own daughter, who is 4 years old, that she will grow up not knowing that the first four years of her life were spent with the state treating her family as second-class citizens. Instead she will grow up with the equal dignity and respect that she deserves.”
President Obama voiced his approval on Tuesday, stating that he was “so proud” of his home state for passing the controversial marriage equality bill.
“As President, I have always believed that gay and lesbian Americans should be treated fairly and equally under the law,” he said in a statement. “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.”
Opponents of the bill, however, are worried that it is inherently immoral and that it will trample on religious freedoms.
Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, said in a statement that it was “disappointing but not surprising that the House has voted to redefine marriage. The losers will be the people of Illinois who will see that redefining marriage will unleash a torrent of harassment toward those who believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.”
“Once the law goes into effect in June of next year,” he said, “we will see individuals, businesses and religious groups sued, fined, brought up on charges of discrimination and punished simply for holding true to the traditional view of marriage.”
The Catholic Conference of Illinois said in a statement that it is “disappointed that members of the General Assembly chose to redefine what is outside of its authority: a natural institution like marriage. We remain concerned about the very real threats to religious liberty that are at stake with the passage of this bill.”
What do you think? Should gay marriage be legal in Illinois? Nationwide? Does it threaten the institution of marriage in the U.S.? Voice your opinion now.