SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Marriage equality will soon be the law of the land in Illinois.
In a close 61-54 vote Tuesday, the Illinois House of Representatives passed Senate Bill 10, the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act.
“It is a wonderful day for the state of Illinois,” Rep. Greg Harris, the bill’s chief sponsor in the House, told BuzzFeed. “I think it is a day that Illinois can now hold up its head proudly among our sister states, but more importantly, there are thousands of gay and lesbian families across the Unites States that can tell their kids tonight that they’re valued and have equal rights with their neighbors.”
The House gallery erupted in cheers when the final votes appeared on the board, Rep. André Thapedi (D-Chicago) casting the final vote. Harris was hugged and applauded by his colleagues, such as the bill’s chief sponsor in the Senate, Heather Steans.
“It has been a long and difficult road, and I am proud that we have finally arrived at this historic day in Illinois,” Steans said. “We have demonstrated what we know to be true — that Illinois is a state that opposes discrimination, welcomes diversity, supports families, respects religious freedom and ensures that all its residents are treated fairly under the law.”
Three Republicans voted for the bill, Rep. Ron Sandek, Rep. Ed Sullivan Jr., and former Minority Leader Tom Cross. Two Chicago Democrats, Derrick Smith and Rita Mayfield, voted “present.”
The bill, amended to take effect June 1, 2014, was easily passed again by Steans in the Senate to reflect the change in a 32-21 vote. The Senate previously passed the measure on Valentine’s Day.
The bill will now go to the desk of Gov. Pat Quinn, who has promised to sign it into law and is expected to do so any day now.
In a statement, Quinn hailed the vote as a historic moment for the state.
“Today the Illinois House put our state on the right side of history,” Quinn said. “I thank Representative Greg Harris and Senator Heather Steans, Speaker Madigan and Senate President Cullerton, the dedicated advocates who have worked day and night to get this bill to my desk, and members of the General Assembly who took a stand for equal rights. Illinois is a place that embraces all people, and today we are an example for the nation.”
Depending on when Quinn signs the bill, Illinois could become the 15th state to legalize marriage equality. Hawaii is debating a similar measure and Gov. Neil Abercrombie could potentially beat Quinn to it.
Attorney General Lisa Madigan also applauded the vote. Madigan has been a longtime supporter of marriage equality and last May announced she would not defend the state’s law restricting marriage to only a man and a woman when it was challenged in a Chicago court.
“I think that the vote today really demonstrated basic American principles of freedom and fairness,” Madigan told BuzzFeed. “So now, all couples — regardless of who they love — will have the rights and responsibilities of marriage as equal families in the state of Illinois. I am very excited about that.”
Rick Garica, who has advocated for LGBT rights legislation in Illinois for decades, received an unusual proposal moments after the bill passed: a proposal from his partner of over 32 years.
“Will you marry me in June 2014?” the text read.
“I just had hoped that we had the necessary votes there and was thrilled that we finally got it done,” Garica said. As for the proposal, Garcia said he was dumbfounded and floored.
He was standing next to Quinn, who congratulated him.
“I am still in shock, I think,” said Anthony Martinez, executive director of The Civil Rights Agenda. “It is amazing that so many Illinois families are finally equal after so much work and so much pressure that had to be put on legislators and I am just so proud to live in Illinois today.”
Few insiders expected a vote on the bill to occur today until buzz began to build just as the House gaveled into session around noon. Many even questioned if Harris would call it up for a vote this week at all, which would have stalled the bill to next year. But Harris told BuzzFeed he had faith that it would happen and that the hard work of thousands of supporters across the state made the vote possible.
“Across Illinois there are thousands of people from mightiest to the most average citizen — there a faith leaders, business leaders, political leaders; there are gay people, straight people, folks in all of our 102 counties who put their hearts and souls into doing the right thing because they believed,” he said. “And today, I think our legislative process shows that if you believe in and work for equality, it happens.”
UPDATE — 6:15 p.m. CDT
President Barack Obama, who previously served as an Illinois Senator, issued the following statement, obtained by BuzzFeed regarding the bill’s passage:
“Tonight, I applaud the men and women of the Illinois General Assembly, a body in which I was proud to serve, for voting to legalize marriage equality in my home state.
As President, I have always believed that gay and lesbian Americans should be treated fairly and equally under the law. Over time, I also came to believe that same-sex couples should be able to get married like anyone else. So tonight, Michelle and I are overjoyed for all the committed couples in Illinois whose love will now be as legal as ours – and for their friends and family who have long wanted nothing more than to see their loved ones treated fairly and equally under the law.
I also commend the members of the General Assembly for approaching this issue in a fair and open way, and for recognizing the importance of our commitment to religious freedom by engaging the religious community in this conversation. Throughout this debate, they’ve made it clear that this is about civil marriages and civil laws, and made sure that churches and other institutions of faith are still free to make their own decisions that conform to their own teachings.
As I said in my Inaugural Address last January, our journey as a nation is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. And tonight, I’m so proud that the men and women elected to serve the people of the great state of Illinois have chosen to take us one step further on that journey to perfect our union.”