SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (CBS) — The Illinois Senate gave a big Valentine’s Day gift to same-sex couples in Illinois, when it approved legislation to allow same-sex marriages in the state.
The vote was largely along party lines, with only one Republican voting yes, and only three Democrats — all from downstate — voting no.
The measure now goes to the Illinois House for consideration.
Illinois legalized same-sex civil unions two years ago, but supporters said that fell short of the ultimate goal of same-sex marriage.
Gov. Pat Quinn has said he will sign the legislation if it is approved by the General Assembly.
State Sen. Heather Steans, the chief Senate sponsor, said it was time for the state to “get rid of its second-class status” for same-sex couples.
“Same-sex couples want to marry for all the same reasons all couples do – love, for commitment, shared responsibility with that one unique irreplaceable person,” she said. “It is time Illinois get rid of its second-class status for a segment of our residents, and allow everyone the opportunity to reap the emotional, social, and economic benefits and obligations of marriage.”
Sen. Toi Hutchinson (D-Olympia Fields) noted her husband’s father, who is black, and mother, who is white, were married in 1960, and dated at a time when 40 states outlawed interracial marriages.
“From the vantage point of 2013, we look back on that as unacceptable. Of course all people should be able to marry who they love,” she said. “This is a question about whether all of our citizens are afforded legal protection under the law; a defining component of our democracy.”
The legislation would not require any religious denomination or religious leader to perform same-sex marriages. Supporters also insisted it would not require religious facilities to host such ceremonies, although opponents expressed concerns the definition of religious institutions was not broad enough.
Opponents also raised moral objections to the legislation.
Sen. Tim Bivins (R-Dixon) said, “We are knocking down one of the central foundations of society. With this bill, we are creating a new class of citizens elevating their rights over those of others.”
One opponent drew laughter from the audience when he claimed the legislation would hurt businesses that are involved in the wedding industry.
“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,” said Sen. Kyle McCarter (R-Lebanon).
McCarter also said he feared the legislation would lead to schools being forced to change their curriculum regarding marriage, even though Steans repeatedly noted the measure says nothing about school curriculum.
“It will have an effect on what our children are taught. It will be confusing to them,” McCarter said. “Some will feel obligated – and we will even, through some of our agencies – mandate that we make sure to redefine the definition of marriage within our schools.”
The governor, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and even President Barack Obama all have urged state lawmakers to approve the legislation.
If approved, Illinois would join nine other states — Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, and Washington — in allowing same-sex marriages.
The Illinois Senate vote was good news to domestic partners Vernita Gray and Pat Ewert, who are now thinking about their wedding plans. Gray’s fight for gay rights began in 1969 when she was just 20 years old.
“It will begin to sink in when there’s a whole generation that will take for granted gay and lesbian marriage. It will just be marriage,” she says.