Roses, chocolate, diamonds, a candlelit dinner – all are favorite Valentine’s Day gifts. But can any top the Illinois Senate’s passage of a marriage equality bill on love’s big holiday?
The Senate on Feb. 14 voted 34-21, with two voting present, for a bill to legalize civil marriage in the state. The measure still needs the support of the House before it reaches the desk of Gov. Pat Quinn, who is eager to sign.
The bill – the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act – arrived to the Senate with strong support from the executive committee, which voted 9-5 for the measure sponsored by Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago.
Steans opened the debate on the bill saying it is time to eliminate second-class status for gays and lesbians in the state and stressing that the measure protects religious freedom.
"We have the opportunity today to welcome all families in Illinois as equally valued," she said.
Sen. Martin Sandoval, D-Cicero, encouraged support for the measure: “It's a great day any day when you can show up as a state senator … and bring justice back home to some of our children, to bring justice to some of our partners, to our aunts, to our uncles.”
“This is a defining moment,” added Sandoval, who to a few chuckles admonished the politicians who argued that civil gay marriage threatens religious freedom but didn't bother to attend church services on Ash Wednesday or Valentine’s Day.
State Sen. William Delgado, D-Chicago, spoke, and compared denying same-sex couples the right to marry to denying women the right to vote.
Opponents, meanwhile, argued that gay marriage threatens traditional families, wondered why civil unions weren’t enough to pacify LGBT people and complained that the focus on the legislation was diverting attention from the economy.
The vote was along partisan lines, with only one Republican, Jason Barickman of Champaign, voting for the measure.
Steans closed the debate at about 2 p.m., thanking openly gay Chicago Democrat Greg Harris, the bill’s sponsor in the House.
"The momentum is building," Harris said after the vote. "More and more House members are telling me they want to be on the right side of history and that they intend to support the bill."
"While this historic day is only half the battle, the Senate today put Illinois on the road to recognizing that, as President Obama said in his inaugural address, 'the love we commit to one another must be equal,'" said Bernard Cherkasov of Equality Illinois, one of the largest LGBT rights group in the state.
Equality Illinois, Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Illinois are leading a statewide campaign, the Illinois Unites for Marriage coalition, to rally citizen support and lobby lawmakers. The coalition has collected endorsements from business, labor, community, religious and civic leaders.
Major dailies in the state also have endorsed marriage equality in editorials – from the Chicago Tribune to the Peoria Journal Star.
And polls in Illinois and at the national level show a majority support for legalizing same-sex marriage. Rhode Island lawmakers are considering a marriage equality bill this year, and there also is an effort under way in Minnesota to legalize gay marriage.
Gay couples can legally marry in nine states and the District of Columbia.
On the record…
Reactions to the vote…
Jim Bennett, regional director of Lambda Legal's Midwest Regional Office: "We thank the Illinois Senate for passing this historic bill, making this a sweet Valentine’s Day for loving same-sex couples across the state. The momentum for marriage continues on this day American holiday honoring love and commitment, and we now urge the House of Representatives to join the right side of history and grant same-sex couples the dignity and respect of marriage."
Rick Garcia, director of the Equal Marriage Illinois Project and adviser to The Civil Rights Agenda: "This is an historic moment and demonstrates once again that Illinois is the land of Lincoln –fairness justice and equality for all. Just two years ago we thought this day was years away, but here we are and I am humbled to be sitting here today. This is an important step, but there is still more work to do. As we turn our attention to the House of Representatives we are working to make sure that they will pass it and the governor is waiting to sign it."
On the Web…