Illinois to become 15th state to legalize gay marriage

A long-awaited vote arrived on Nov. 5 in the Illinois House, with lawmakers approving a bill certain to make the state the 15th in the nation to legalize marriage for same-sex couples.

The House vote was 61-54 with two present for a measure that needed a final OK from the Senate. The Senate approved the Illinois Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act on Valentine's Day but the House changed the legislation, pushing back the effective date to June. That change meant the Senate had to vote again before sending the bill to Gov. Pat Quinn, who has said he will sign the measure into law.

The debate in the House began about mid-day on the third to last day of the fall veto session and after months of lobbying from Zion to Cairo. 

The House was expected to take up the legislation in the regular session. But on the last day of that session, on May 31, sponsor Greg Harris announced that there would be no vote, that his colleagues needed more time to discuss the issue with their constituents.

Harris, who is gay and represents a northside Chicago district, said he hoped the bill would be brought to a vote during the fall veto session.

And that's what happened on Nov. 5.

“To treat all our citizens equally in the eyes of the law, we must change this,” Harris said of the Illinois prohibition against same-sex couples marrying.

Openly gay Rep. Kelly Cassidy, in a floor speech, said the bill could not be more personal — "It goes directly to how my family is defined by this state."

She added, "Cast your vote for equality. For the right thing. Please, vote yes and join us on the right side of history."

Rep. Jay C. Hoffman said, "I've listened to both sides, looked at the research and read the constitution. It's clear: This is a matter of fairness."

Republican Rep. Ed Sullivan, who represents Mundelein, urged members of his party to support the bill. He spoke about the personal impact of the legislation, about the impact of his mother-in-law, who is a lesbian, on his life.

Rep. Linda Chapa-Lavia, who was publicly undecided on the bill until Nov. 5, spoke on the floor, said the equality bill actually strengthens religious freedoms.

Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth said, "I am voting for marriage equality today because it is the right thing to do."

Rep. Chris Welch spoke in favor of the bill, saying, "I love my wife. She loves me. We get that right. Why shouldn't two people of the same sex?"

He added, addressing his colleagues, "Speak up for love! Speak up for fairness! Speak up for equality and vote for SB10!"

Chicago Democrat Sara Feigenholtz, long a leader on gay civil rights in the state, urged colleagues to join her in voting for the bill: "Say yes for dignity. Yes for respect. Yes for families all across Illinois."

Opposing the measure, Republican Rep. Tom Morrison said same-sex marriage is unnatural and that "real marriage" between a man and a woman is "the building block of human civilization."

Other opponents argued against the equality bill because it didn't guarantee business owners the right to refuse to serve or sell products to same-sex couples.

After a lengthy debate, at about 4 p.m. CST, Harris returned to the microphone to close the arguments and bring the bill to a vote. "At the end of the day, this bill is about love. It's about family. It's about commitment," he said, with emotion in his voice.

At 4:01 p.m., Harris said, Ladies and gentlemen, please vote yes."

Sixty-one did vote yes. Fifty-four voted no. Two voted present.

To pass, the measure needed 60 votes. Had the effective date not been changed, the bill would have required a supermajority of 71 votes to pass.

Senate President John Cullerton said those in his chambers were prepared to take a second "yes" vote on the bill, and that came easily later on Nov. 5.

Quinn, who was in the House to watch the historic debate, has long said he'd sign the bill.

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