A bill legalizing gay marriage in Illinois passed the Senate Executive Committee on Tuesday by a 9-5 vote. The bill, SB10 - Senate Amendment 1, will now be considered by the full Senate where a vote is expected on February 14.
"Same-sex couples want to marry for the same reasons we all do. Civil unions have created a second-class status," state Senator Heather Steans (D-Chicago), the sponsor of the bill, told the committee.
Testimony from four witnesses followed.
"A civil union is not the same. It hurts, people treat us differently," said Danielle Cook of Bloomington testifying with her partner and son.
The first committee question came from state Sen. Dale Righter (R-Mattoon), who spent a considerable amount of time discussing the legislation's impact on religious liberty.
Legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, Joe LaRue of Scottsdale, Ariz., argued against the bill.
LaRue called the bill "problematic," but when pressed by state Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) as to whether or not a church had been sued, he replied, "I'm not aware of any lawsuits in Illinois filed against a church for refusing to solemnize a civil union."
The lengthy committee session continued as Righter and state Senator Matt Murphy (R-Palatine) questioned Steans and Christopher Clark, Senior Staff Attorney in the Midwest Regional Office of Lambda Legal, on religious protections. Righter worried that a church or religious organization could be compelled to perform same-sex marriages.
"Illinois has some of the most extensive religious freedom laws, those remain," testified Clark. "Nothing in this bill forces a church to perform a same-sex marriage."
Clark further explained that public accommodation law is governed by the Human Rights Act, not the marriage bill.
Arguments against the bill were not enough to sway the committee, which voted 9-5 in favor, even stronger support than the 8-5 committee vote last month. The legislation now moves to the Senate for a full vote.
Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago), who headed Tuesday's Senate Committee, said last week
that he hopes to pass the legislation during a floor vote on Valentine's Day. Cullerton said that he believes the legislation has the necessary 30 votes to pass and move to the House.
Sponsors fell short of passing a marriage bill last month during the General Assembly's lame-duck session. Steans and state Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) reintroduced the measure shortly after members of the 98th General Assembly were sworn in on Jan. 9.
Gay rights advocates remain optimistic that the bill will pass through both the House and the Senate within the coming weeks as Democrats maintain veto-proof majorities in both houses.
Gov. Pat Quinn Tuesday restated his support of full marriage equality. "Now is the time for the next step in providing equal rights to all people in Illinois," Quinn said in a statement posted on Facebook.
"We are all very excited to see this bill move forward," stated Rick Garcia, Director of the Equal Marriage Illinois Project and Senior Policy Advisor for The Civil Rights Agenda
. "We are looking forward to a full vote in the Senate and we expect it to pass. It should be a very welcome Valentine's Day gift for the thousands of couples and families that are anxiously awaiting the passage of this bill. The momentum continues to build in Illinois."Equality Illinois
CEO Bernard Cherkasov said, "Today's historic passage of the marriage bill through the Senate Executive Committee sets us on the clear path to recognition of the freedom to marry in Illinois."
Sponsors and advocates cite momentum in other states and growing support among Illinoisans and local business leaders
"I am confident that the lawmakers will listen to the voice of the majority of Illinoisans who support the freedom to marry and pass the bill," concluded Cherkasov.
Nine states and the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriage. If Illinois approves gay marriage nearly twenty percent of the U.S. population will live in states recognizing marriage equality, according to the Human Rights Campaign.Related from Windy City TimesWhere are your senators on equal marriage?Where is your state rep on marriage equality?