Chicago just got even cooler. Illinois is gearing up to become the 15th state to legalize gay marriage, as a same-sex marriage bill passed the state House on Tuesday. If Gov. Pat Quinn — who has said he intends to approve the bill by the end of the month — signs it, the state will acknowledge gay marriage starting on June 1, 2014. In a statement about his home state's decision, President Obama says, "Michelle and I are overjoyed for all the committed couples in Illinois whose love will now be as legal as ours."
The road to same-sex marriage was a rather rocky and somewhat unexpected one for Illinois. A January proposal died in the state Senate but was passed in February. When the Illinois House failed to vote on it during the summer and in a veto session in October, many didn't expect a decision until next year. But after the bill got 61 votes — one more than the minimum amount needed to send it back to the Senate — it was finally signed on Tuesday. The decision may have be expedited by both the Supreme Court's May ruling that defined marriage as not just between a man and a woman for the purpose of receiving federal benefits.
Once the bill is signed, the law in Illinois would define marriage as simply between two people, regardless of sex, and civil unions could be changed to marriages within a year. Opponents say that the bill doesn't cover enough religious rights, alleging that business owners who do not believe in gay marriage might be forced to provide insurance or marriage products for same-sex spouses.
"The fact is that this bill is the worst in the U.S. for protecting religious liberty," said Rep. Jeanne Ives during a two-and-a-half hour debate.
If people refuse to serve same-sex couples, they could face discrimination lawsuits. "The losers will be the people of Illinois who will see that redefining marriage will unleash a torrent of harassment toward those who believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman,” says Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage.
But Rep. Greg Harris, a sponsor of the bill, contends it is simple:
At the end of the day, what this bill is about is love, it's about family, it's about commitment," he said. "At the end of the day, this bill is about the vision that the founders of our country had and wrote into our Constitution, where they said America is a journey. … And we'll continue to walk down that road to make America a better place, to make ourselves a 'more perfect union,' to ensure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.
Members of Illinois' LGBTQ community were ecstatic when they heard about the news. "The truth is that this is really a victory for the thousands of couples and their families across the state of Illinois who are going to wake up and read in the paper that a majority of the leaders in this state now believe they are equal to everyone else," said Ed Yohnka, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois.
Illinois' bill caps a banner year for same-sex couples and activists. This year, Delaware, Rhode Island, Minnesota, and New Jersey all saw legislation passed in their favor. Hawaii is expected to vote on same-sex marriage in the next few days, and it is likely to be legalized.