In a historic step for many LGBT Illinoisans, the Senate voted in favor of legalizing gay marriage Feb. 14, just two years after the General Assembly passed civil unions.
The measure passed by a vote of 34-21. Two voted "present" while two others did not vote.
The bill now moves on to a house committee.
"It's a very good sign," said House Sponsor Greg Harris.
Senate sponsor Heather Steans argued that the time for marriage equality in Illinois was now, and said that civil unions had marked same-sex spouses as less than heterosexual couples.
"Those of us voting yes will count it among our most fulfilling votes," said Steans.
Republican senators grilled Steans on whether or not the bill protected religious freedom.
Some speculated that the bill would later be amended to force religious institutions to solemnize same-sex marriages. Sen. Kyle McCarter said he worried it would change what kids were taught in school. Democrat Bill Haine read remarks from religious leaders against the bill.
Steans said that the bill does not threaten religious freedom and that no religious institution will be legally obligated to perform same-sex marriages.
A number of Senators rose in favor of the bill, including Republican Jason Barickman, whose sole Republican "yes" vote surprised many.
Barickman said he also had concerns about religious freedom, but that he felt that an amendment added necessary protections.
"Along with these religious protections, I believe that the people of Illinois want our government to give individuals freedom with their life decisions," said Barickman "We want fairness under the law."
Among those speaking in support of the bill were also Sens. Iris Martinez, Toi Hutchinson, Kwame Raoul, David Koehler, Michael Frerichs, Martin Sandoval, and William Delgado.
"It's a great day, any day when you can show up as a state senator, and represent 210,000 people or so and be able to bring justice back home to some of children, to bring justice to some of our partners, to our aunts, to our uncles, to bring justice and quality life to even many members of our staffs," said Sandoval.
Ultimately, the measure passed comfortably. It needed just 30 votes.
Democrats voting against the bill included Bill Haine, who introduced a constitutional amendment in early February limiting marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
Gary Forby and John Sullivan, both Democrats also voted against the bill. Democrats Patricia Van Pelt Watkins and Napoleon Harris voted "present." Not voting was Rogers Park Senate Democrat Ira Silverstein and James Claybourne, Jr.
Gov. Pat Quinn praised the Senate's passage of the bill and called on the House to do the same.
"Couples across Illinois have even more reason today to celebrate their love for each other, thanks to the hard work of committed advocates and lawmakers," Quinn said in a statement. "This historic legislation will strengthen our state by allowing all committed couples to enjoy the same legal protections and benefits of marriage."
LGBT groups also celebrated the vote.
"This is an historic moment and demonstrates once again that Illinois is the land of Lincoln - fairness justice and equality for all," said Rick Garcia, policy director for The Civil Rights Agenda, in a statement.
It now heads to the House. LGBT leaders said that the level of Senate support for the measure could forecast momentum in the House, where a much tougher fight has been predicted.
Illinois Unites for Marriage, a coalition of pro-LGBT groups, has hired a number of organizers to push the measure. Volunteers have also been phone banking, asking supportive Illinoisans to call their lawmakers.
Freedom to Marry, a national LGBT organization, announced $800,000 of funds going to six states where marriage bills are up for debate, Illinois among them.
LGBT groups have said that the bill could be on Governor Quinn's desk by the end of the month.
But the bill is expected to face harsher opposition in the House where many Democrats have opposed civil unions and made statements against same-sex marriage.
Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois, said part of the challenge in the House is simply numbers. LGBT advocates have double the amount of votes to secure.
On Feb. 15, Equality Illinois sent messages to their supporters urging them to call their state reps. and send letters to their local newspapers.
Harris said he is not yet certain when the bill will come to a vote in the house and declined to speculate on when sponsors would have the votes secured.
Cherkasov, however, said that supporters want to build on momentum from the house.
"The strategy is to keep the bill the bill moving forward," Cherkasov said.
Movement on the bill is not expected until later this month, due to posting requirements for the bill in committee. That will postpone movement for about a week. But Cherkasov said that coalition members will use that time build support in the House.
How Senators voted (District is included after each name)
Antonio Muñoz (1)
William Delgado (2)
Mattie Hunter (3)
Kimberly Lightford (4)
John Cullerton (6)
Heather Steans (7)
Daniel Biss (9)
John Mulroe (10)
Martin Sandoval (11)
Steven Landek (12)
Kwame Raoul (13)
Emil Jones, III (14)
Jacqui Collins (16)
Donne Trotter (17)
Bill Cunningham (18)
Michael Hastings (19)
Iris Martinez (20)
Michael Noland (22)
Thomas Cullerton (23)
Dan Katowski (28)
Julie Morrison (29)
Terry Link (30)
Melinda Bush (31)
Steve Stadelman (34)
Mike Jacobs (36)
Don Harmon (39)
Toi Hutchinson (40)
Linda Holmes (42)
Pat McGuire (43)
David Koehler (46)
Andy Manar (48)
Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant (49)
Michael Frerichs (52)
Jason Barickman (53)
Michael Connelly (21)
Kirk Dillard (24)
Jim Oberweis (25)
Dan Duffy (26)
Matt Murphy (27)
Pamela Althoff (32)
Karen McConnaughay (33)
Dave Syverson (35)
Darin LaHood (37)
Christine Radogno (41)
Bill Brady (44)
Tim Bivins (45)
John Sullivan (47)
Wm. Sam McCann (50)
Chapin Rose (51)
Kyle McCarter (54)
Dale Righter (55)
Bill Haine (56)
David Luechtefeld (58)
Gary Forby (59)
Patricia Van Pelt Watkins (5)
Napoleon Harris, III (15)
Ira Silverstein (8)
James Claybourne, Jr. (57)
A selection of the best statements made during the Valentine's Day debate on legalizing same-sex marriage.
"I just watched [the movie] 'Lincoln' and for the love of God, I feel like I'm sitting in 1865, where similar debates were created of why slavery should continue in this country."Sen. William Delgado (D), before voting "yes."
"Seeing as I'm not going to be back tonight with my sweetheart, we went out [for Valentine's Day] early. We went to a place that we like going to owned by [pause] a gay couple. [Laughter from the Senate floor] I don't understand the response. These are friends of mine." Sen. Kyle McCarter (R), before voting "no."
"The sky is not falling, Chicken Little. I urge you."Sen. Kwame Raoul (D), before voting "yes."
"I have served here for six years, and I have not seen a single bill to do away with divorce in the state. That's something that is very dangerous towards traditional marriage," Sen. Michael Frerichs (D), before voting "yes."
"Businesses will be affected. Bed and breakfasts, florists, all those that are wedding related will be affected. They will choose to, most of them, dissolve their businesses. That's what's happened in other states."Sen. Kyle McCarter (R), before voting "no."
"Along with these religious protections, I believe that the people of Illinois want our government to give individuals freedom with their life decisions. We want fairness under the law."Sen. Jason Barickman (R), before voting, "yes."
"We've knocked down some walls in this country. You know, there was a time when for accounting purposes, I would only be considered three fifths of a man, but we knocked down that wall."Sen. Kwame Raoul (D), before voting "yes."
"From old Testament to new, there is nothing that supports same-sex marriage."Sen. Tim Bivins (D), before voting "no."
"Today, I vote for my family. Today, I vote for hopefully being able to embrace more adopted children into my loving family. Today, I vote for all, for all human beings out there regardless of who they are, where they come from and what religious belief they believe in. I am very proud of my family. And today is a historic day for me because I won't have to go Canada or somewhere else to have a wedding when I can do this right here in my own state with my family."Sen. Iris Martinez, before voting "yes" (Martinez was referring to LGBTQ relatives, not her own wedding).
See the roll call here:
See related story here: "QUOTELINES: Regarding Senate equal marriage debate",
See additional photospread here: