(MCT) — SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Illinois took a major step toward giving gay and lesbian couples the right to marry Thursday, as the Democratic-led state Senate handed advocates an early win after a fervent debate over sex and morals.
Now the high-profile social issue moves to a House divided on whether people of the same sex should be allowed to marry— a question of equality for supporters and a matter of Biblical proportions for opponents.
Illinois would become the 10th state to approve gay marriage if the bill makes it to the desk of Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, who has said he would sign it. The push for same-sex marriage is unfolding rapidly in Illinois, where the first civil union certificates were issued less than two years ago.
During the debate, sponsoring Sen. Heather Steans , a Democrat, urged colleagues to join her in a vote for the “history books” that would remove gay and lesbian couples from “second-class status.”
Same-sex partners want to marry for the same reasons as heterosexual couples, including for love, commitment and “shared responsibility with that one, unique irreplaceable person,” Steans said.
Buoyed by gains in November’s election, Democrats supplied all but one of the “yes” votes on the 34-21 roll call, with two voting present and two members absent. The Republican-led opposition included Sens. Bill Brady and Kirk Dillard, each of whom may run in a March 2014 GOP primary for governor, in which conservative voters will hold sway.
Under the measure, marriage officially would be changed in state law from an act between a man and a woman to one between two persons. Civil unions could be converted to marriages within a year of a same-sex marriage law going onto the books. The legislation would not require ministers to perform a marriage of gay couples, and church officials would not be forced to allow church facilities to be used by gay couples, Steans said.
Even so, Sen. Kyle McCarter and several other Republican colleagues feared the legislation would have far-reaching impact, predicting even the school curriculum in Illinois will be changed to recognize gay marriage.
“People have the right to live as they choose,” McCarter said. “They don’t have the right to redefine marriage for all of us. . . . We are jeopardizing freedom, not expanding it.”
In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the Senate approval acknowledges that “when two people love each other, no government entity should stand in the way of letting them express that love.”
The Catholic Conference of Illinois, which represents the Chicago archdiocese and five others, accused lawmakers of tossing aside the long-standing definition of marriage “with unknown consequences.”
“This legislation callously redefines a bedrock institution of our society and deteriorates the free exercise of religion in our state,” said Robert Gilligan, the group’s executive director.
The lone Republican who supported the measure, Sen. Jason Barickman, said Illinoisans “want our government to give individuals freedom over their life decisions. We want fairness under the law, and so for me this is simply the right thing to do.”