Illinois says ‘I do’ to same-sex marriage

By Eleanor Black

Illinois is on its way to becoming the 15th state to recognize marriage equality. On Tuesday, after a two -hour debate, the House of Representatives passed Senate Bill 10 with 61 votes.

The bill was then sent to the Senate, where it was quickly passed and is expected to be signed into law by Gov. Pat Quinn.

SB10, sponsored by Rep. Greg Harris, would change the definition of marriage in Illinois to an act between two people, thus allowing same-sex couples the same rights and protections currently given to married couples.

Though the bill does not require religious institutions to perform same-sex marriage, some religious leaders believe it does not go far enough to protect their rights. One concern raised is that they may be forced to provide health insurance to an employee’s same-sex spouse.

In a statement, President Barack Obama expressed his support of the LGBT community and Tuesday’s historic vote.

“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,” he said in the statement. “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.”

Over the past year, the possibility of same-sex marriage in Illinois often seemed dim. In January, the proposal failed in a lame duck session, but the Senate later passed it on Feb. 14. At the end of spring session in May, there was no House vote, which left both sides to lobby lawmakers over the next few months. After the first week of the veto session passed without a vote last month, some didn’t expect a resolution until next year.

But SB10 received 61 votes, one more than the minimum needed to send it back to the Senate for Tuesday’s final vote.

Praise has also rolled in on a more local level from Quinn, who has been a proponent of same-sex marriage in Illinois.

“Illinois is a place that embraces all people and today, we are an example for the nation,” Quinn said.

The governor also thanked those who made the vote possible.

“I thank Rep. Greg Harris and Sen. Heather Steans, Speaker (Michael) Madigan and Senate President (John) Cullerton, the dedicated advocates who have worked day and night to get this bill to my desk, and members of the General Assembly who took a stand for equal rights,” he said.

Once it is signed by Quinn, the bill will take effect on June 1, 2014.

Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-103, co-sponsored the legislation. She rushed to Springfield from her home, where she was caring for an ill relative, because the vote was expected to be so tight and made it to the House floor shortly after the debate started.

State Sen. Michael Frerichs supported the bill and praised Tuesday’s vote.

“In the land of Lincoln, and to quote his famous words, ‘in order to form a more perfect union,’ I think it’s important that we join in concurring with the House and their action,” he said. “It took them awhile, but they came around on the right side of history.”

Though it is uncertain when Quinn will sign the bill into law, he said the vote puts Illinois “on the right side of history.”

The Chicago Tribune contributed to this report.

Eleanor can be reached at [email protected]com.