SPRINGFIELD, Ill.- Jubilation swept Illinois after the state legislature passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage on Nov. 5. Illinois becomes the 15th state to pass a marriage equality law.
Legislators and spectators broke out in hugs and shouts after the Illinois House of Representatives passed Senate Bill 10, the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act. The vote was 61 in favor, 54 opposed.
The state senate then passed the bill, which had been amended and sent it to Governor Quinn for his signature. Gov. Pat Quinn has pledged to sign the bill.
The amended bill includes language to change the date the legislation would go into effect to June 1, 2014, and reiterated exemptions for private clubs that do not want to host marriages for same-sex couples.
"This is a great day for Illinois and for the rest of the country" said Rick Garcia, policy director and director of the Equal Marriage Illinois Project for the Civil Rights Agenda. "Fairness, decency, and equality were affirmed by our legislature. Same-gender couples will have the same state benefits as their heterosexual counterparts."
Despite a Democratic majority in both houses of the legislature, a group of Democrats who were against it were decisive to blocking passage in the house. They were influenced in part by religious conservatives and fearful of being defeated in next year's legislative elections. Republicans overwhelmingly opposed it.
However, much has happened since the bill was tabled in the spring legislative session, which bitterly disappointed supporters of marriage equality. Legislators had to consider rapidly changing public opinion, the recent Supreme Court ruling striking down the Defense of Marriage Act and the remarks of Pope Francis which signaled a change by the Catholic Church hierarchy regarding gay rights.
In his closing remarks, Rep. Greg Harris, a co-sponsor of the bill and the leader of the fight for passage said, "At the end of the day this is about love, family and commitment.
"America is not a destination, it's a journey. We will continue to walk down the road to make America a better place," he said.
In a direct challenge to the hypocrisy of lawmakers who spoke of freedom, yet denied marriage equality to same-sex partners, Harris displayed a flag sent to him by a U.S. soldier stationed in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. Harris said the soldier was asked to defend freedom and "he asks that we vote for the freedom to let him marry the person he loves."
In announcing his support for the bill, House Speaker Michael Madigan invoked Pope Francis, who stunned the world when he declared,
"We now know that being gay isn't a choice, but something one is born with. If our Lord decides that someone should come into this world a certain way, who are we to judge his choice?"
Madigan had come under withering criticism for what many felt were half-hearted efforts to marshal the needed Democratic votes.
"This is great news for the thousands of committed same-sex couples in Illinois who will now be able to make the ultimate vow before their friends and family, protected and supported by their marriage," said Marc Solomon, national campaign director for Freedom to Marry. "It also represents tremendous momentum, with another victory in the heartland and our sixth state victory in 2013. "
Passage of the bill took place as the Fall Veto Session was winding down. Growing public support for the measure, including thousands of petitions, calls and visits to legislators, capped by a massive demonstration of 5,000 people at the state capitol on Oct. 22 put heavy pressure on wavering lawmakers.
In the end a majority made sure Illinois stood on the side of history.
Photo: Stacy Bengs/AP