By Ray Long and Rafael Guerrero
5:19 PM CST, February 14, 2013
SPRINGFIELD — The Democratic-led Senate delivered a Valentine’s Day victory to gay and lesbian couples today, passing legislation for the first time that would allow same-sex marriage in Illinois.
The gay marriage measure now goes to the House, where the fight is expected to be tougher. Gov. Pat Quinn is expected to sign the bill if it reaches his desk.
The 34-21-2 Senate vote represents a turnaround of sorts after advocates unsuccessfully sought to push a gay marriage bill through last month’s lame-duck legislative session. Supporters vowed to try again quickly with a new General Assembly that featured even more Democratic seats in both chambers.
(See How They Voted by clicking HERE)
Under the measure, marriage officially would be changed in state law from an act between a man and a woman to two people. The legislation explicitly says nothing in the proposed law would force a religious denomination or minster to “solemnize any marriage.” People in civil unions would be able to convert them to gay marriages within a year of a same-sex marriage law going on the books in Illinois.
While advocates have brought forth a lengthy line-up of religious leaders who have endorsed same-sex marriage, Catholics and other church groups have provided fierce opposition. They have argued same-sex marriage goes against the basic tenets of the Bible, which call for marriage to be only between a man and woman. Two years ago, Illinois legalized civil unions for straight and gay couples.
Sen. Heather Steans, who sponsored the measure, argued the legislation is needed because it is time for Illinois to eliminate the "second-class status" of gay and lesbian couples.
The Chicago Democrat pleaded with colleages for support for the legislation because same-sex couples want to marry for the same reasons as heterosexual couples, including love.
The law will not require ministers to perform a marriage of gay couples. Nor will church officials have to require facilities of churches, such as parish or fellowship halls, to be used by gay couples against the wishes of a religious group, Steans said.
Republican Sen. Tim Bivins, a former sheriff from Dixon who occasionally preaches from a church pulpit, argued vehemently against allowing same-sex couples to wed.
Bivins sought to buttress his position with historical comments ranging from those of Thomas Jefferson, one of the nation's founders, to Jesus Christ and Elijah, major figures in the Bible's New and Old Testaments.
"We're knocking down one of the basic foundations of society," Bivins said.
Pointing to changing attitudes in society, Bivins also lambasted Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's comments last summer in which he said some statements against gay marriage by Chick-fil-A's president do not represent "our values" in Chicago.
Democratic Sen. William Haine of Alton, a former state's attorney from Madison County, joined in the criticism of the legislation, calling it a "profound change."
"We are doing it on the basis of emotion and the needs of citizens who actively vote," said Haine. He complained the bill falls short of protecting churches from being forced to engage in what they view as "sacrilegious."
But Sen. Martin Sandoval, D-Chicago, called this particular Valentine's Day a "day of celebration," saying support for gay marriage is a decisive action to break down barriers that have prevented some Illinois citizens from getting the justice they deserve.
"This is a bill that is a defining moment here in this state," Sandoval said, asking "why is it so wrong?" to help lifte partners share insurance and retirement benefits.
Lashing out at Catholics and other church officials that strongly opposed the legislation, Sandoval said, "our religious leaders have failed us."
He argued the greatest message that Jesus left his followers was to "love one another" and that the legislation would help fulfill that vision--an interpretation disputed heavily by clergy and legislative opponents.
Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, said the changes represent a "danger" because it will "abrogate the mission of the church." He contended church officials who fear what will happen because of the law will pull back their outreach efforts.
Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon, predicted the legislation would have far-reaching impact throughout Illinois, saying even school curriculum will be changed to recognize gay marriage.
"People have the right to live as they choose," McCarter said. "They don't have the right to redefine marriage for all of us. . . . We are jeopardizing freedom, not expanding it."
McCarter took issue with choosing Valentine's Day to pass the bill in the Senate, saying the vote was "scheduled on the holiday to celebrate love to disguise what is truly a devaluing of traditional marriage."
Sen. Willie Delgado, D-Chicago, called for an end to prejudice against gay and lesbian couples, saying all citizens are the same "in the Lord's eyes."
Delgado said he was having flashbacks to the movie "Lincoln," which focuses on the 16th president's efforts to issue the Emancipation Proclamation and abolish slavery.
"For the love of God, I feel like I'm sitting in 1865, where similar debates were created on why slavery should continue in this country," Delgado said, adding, "This is the time. This is the place. This is the moment... We are one people."
Sen. Toi Hutchinson, an Olympia Fields Democrat and candidate for the 2nd Congressional District seat left open by the resignation of U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson, quoted Martin Luther King Jr: "The moral arc of the universe is long but it always bends toward justice."
Hutchinson said the senators had the chance to bend that arc a "little bit further."
Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, told a story about how he could not first accept that a cousin was gay, but then he realized over time that he was "no different" from the person he had long loved.
"The sky is not falling, Chicken Little," Raoul said.
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