UPDATED: A long-awaited vote arrived this month in the Illinois House, with lawmakers approving a bill certain to legalize marriage for same-sex couples.
The House vote was 61-54 with two present for a measure that needed only a final OK from the Senate — which came later on Nov. 5 — and the governor’s signature is expected to be delivered at a big ceremony on Nov. 20.
The signing ceremony will take place in Chicago and make Illinois the 16th state in the nation to “embrace full marriage equality,” Quinn said in a statement. “The legislation,” he added, “will permit all couples in our state to receive the rights and protections of marriage.”
The governor invited people to the University of Illinois-Chicago Forum for a momentous occasion honoring “the many people who worked tirelessly to make marriage equality possible in Illinois.”
The Senate first 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 needed to vote again before sending the bill to Quinn.
The House had been 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, as 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.
The debate began about mid-day on the third to last day of the fall veto session and after months of lobbying from Zion to Cairo.
“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 lesbian 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 his mother-in-law, who is a lesbian, has had on his life.
Rep. Linda Chapa-Lavia, who was publicly undecided on the bill until Nov. 5, spoke on the floor, saying the measure would strengthen rather than intrude on religious freedoms.
Rep. Chris Welch, speaking in favor of the bill, said, “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!”
And Chicago Democrat Sara Feigenholtz, long a leader on gay civil rights in the state and one of the most popular politicians with Chicago’s LGBT residents, 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, they said, it didn’t guarantee business owners the right to refuse to serve or sell products to same-sex couples.
Similar arguments were made against the equality bills that passed earlier this year in Minnesota, Rhode Island and Delaware.
‘Principled impatience’ triumphs
After the lengthy debate, at about 4 p.m., 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 quietly 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.
Bernard Cherkasov of Equality Illinois called the vote historic. “Just as we passed every single measure of LGBT equality in the Land of Lincoln, the marriage bill passed with bipartisan support in both chambers, with suburban and downstate, African American and Latino lawmakers all coming together to do what is right by our families. I could not be prouder,” he said.
Kevin Cathcart, of Lambda Legal, which has sued the state for marriage equality, said, “History keeps moving forward — because we all keep pushing it in the direction of fairness.”
Chad Griffin of the Human Rights Campaign said after the House vote, “Today the Land of Lincoln rededicated itself to the proposition that all are created equal. Thanks to principled impatience from state leaders in Springfield, the overwhelming momentum toward nationwide marriage equality continues to intensify.”
Marriage equality advocates cheered as they left the chamber and entered the Capitol rotunda.
Advocates also rallied in cities across the state that night, including at several large parties in Chicago.
And some offered offered marriage proposals.
In Chicago, Peter Michakowski proposed marriage to his partner of 19 years beside one of the rainbow pylons on Halsted Street in Boystown.
“We were waiting for Illinois,” he said. “We could have gone to another state a long time ago. But we wanted to get married where we are from and where we live, like everyone else.”
Mahalia Campbell of Moline also proposed the night the House bill passed. She and her partner have been together 28 years.
“We’re planning to become June brides,” she said. “How traditional is that?”