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Illinois House committee advances gay marriage bill

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013 9:57 a.m. CDT

(MCT) — SPRINGFIELD — A bill legalizing gay marriage cleared a Democratic-led committee late Tuesday and now moves to the full House, where the issue is expected to meet its toughest test.

The proposal, approved on a 6-5 vote in the House Executive Committee shortly before 10 p.m., is coming under increasingly heavy fire from church organizations who say same-sex marriage violates moral and religious principles. But advocates have ratcheted up calls for swift action.

Sponsoring Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, said the bill is needed “because we need to treat all Illinois families equally under the law” but the status of people in civil unions is often misunderstood.

Under the measure, marriage in Illinois would be allowed between two people rather than only a man and a woman. Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn has vowed to sign the legislation, a move that would make Illinois the 10th state in the nation to allow same-sex marriage. The Senate passed the legislation with only one Republican vote on Valentine’s Day.

Advocates said the proposal would allow ministers to refuse to perform same-sex marriages if it’s against their beliefs and would not require church officials to make their buildings or parish halls available if they don’t wish it. But opponents have questioned if the protections are strong enough.

The House has held close votes on same-sex issues over the years. The latest movement to support gay marriage in Illinois has evolved quickly. It’s been less than two years since the first civil union certificates were issued for gay and straight couples.

But with the Democrats increasing their majorities in both the House and the Senate during last fall’s elections, the gay marriage issue gained traction. Advocates tried to pass the measure in the brief, lame-duck legislative session in January, but they called off the bid and refocused on passing the bill in the newly seated General Assembly.

The late-night committee hearing was held following an hours-long debate on concealed carry gun legislation in the full House. Witnesses who came to Springfield just to weigh in on the marriage bill quickly presented their testimony before the committee voted shortly before 10:30 p.m.

Kellie Fiedorek, an official with the Alliance Defending Freedom, argued against the bill. She said it failed to protect the religious freedoms of all Illinoisans because it "advances religious intolerance and discrimination towards Illinois citizens with sincerely held religious beliefs."

Backing for the proposal came from the Rev. Otis Moss III, senior pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ, the former church of President Barack Obama.

Moss told the committee that all people come from different backgrounds of faith, traditions and ethnicities, but he called on lawmakers to remember they all belong to the "cathedral of democracy."

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