Ill. Senate committee approves marriage equality bill

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A measure to legalize same-sex marriage in Illinois cleared its first hurdle this afternoon after a state Senate committee approved it on a vote of 8–5.

With the Senate Executive Committee’s stamp of approval, the measure heads next to a vote by the full Senate. At this point, it’s unclear when that vote will occur.

Earlier in the afternoon, the state’s Democratic leadership had tried to delay the committee vote. A spokesman for Senate President John Cullerton explained to the Associated Press that there were not enough votes to gain full Senate approval.

Democrats hold 35 Senate seats in Illinois, and only 30 votes are needed for approval. No GOP state Senator supports the bill.

A new, even more Democratic Legislature will be sworn in on Jan. 9.

If the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act becomes law, Illinois would be the 10th state to approve same-sex marriage. It would be the first state to adopt it after momentum built following several successes across the nation in the November election and public encouragement from President Barack Obama, who has asked lawmakers in his home state to back marriage equality.

Advocates are pushing for full gay marriage rights just 18 months after the state recognized civil unions. The push is being led by a coordinated campaign championed by gay Chicago media mogul Fred Eychaner and Laura Ricketts, the out lesbian co-owner of the Chicago Cubs.

Yesterday Jesse Tyler Ferguson, a star of ABC's “Modern Family,” joined Democratic Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon in Chicago to speak out for the legislation. Gov. Pat Quinn has indicated he'll sign the bill into law if it passes, and lead Senate sponsor Heather Steans said the measure has a chance to be in place by Valentine’s Day.

Many conservative religious organizations are opposed to the bill, arguing it would compel them to treat same-sex unions as the equivalent of traditional marriage.

Right-wing Cardinal Francis George and his six auxiliary bishops sent a letter to all priests in the Chicago archdiocese on New Year’s Day asking parishioners to contact lawmakers to urge them to vote against the bill. George said that government “has no power to create something that nature itself tells us is imposible.”