With a Valentine’s Day vote, the Illinois Senate backed a bill on Thursday that would formally legalize same-sex marriage, positioning the home state of President Barack Obama inches closer to becoming the 10th in the nation—along with Washington D.C.–to allow gay couples the right to marry.
The vote passed by a 34 to 21 margin—a result many thought was impossible a few years ago even in the state’s Democratic-controlled legislature. The victory was not only seen as a hard-fought win for gay-rights supporters in the state, but also a fundamental part of a broader shift in public opinion on same-sex marriages throughout the nation.
Representative Greg Harris, who will be pushing for the bill in the House, claimed the vote was a landmark achievement by saying, “It wasn’t long ago that citizens did not believe they would see this day. Several parents thought they didn’t believe their children would even see this day.”
The historic vote comes two years after lawmakers approved civil-union legislation in the state, which was deemed a major victory among gay-rights supporters.
Advocates still believe there is more work to be done as roughly two dozen same-sex couples have pending lawsuits in Illinois to push for expansive marriage rights. While the legal actions are pending, advocates for homosexual rights see significant changes from lawmakers since the November elections.
To address concerns regarding protections from faith-based organizations and communities that oppose gay marriage, the bill formally exempts churches from being forced to perform same-sex marriages or host receptions.
Opponents to the bill voiced concern that religious or faith-based institutions including businesses, schools and hospitals would not be covered under similar legal safeguards. Republican Senator Kyle McCarter expressed this view at the vote by saying, “people have a right to live as the want, but individuals should not have the right to redefine marriage for of society.”
It was murky on Thursday when the state’s House, where support is expected to be thinner, would take on the legislation. That said, Democratic Governor Pat Quinn is expected to sign the bill if or when it reaches his desk.