SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The Illinois General Assembly narrowly approved a gay marriage bill Tuesday, clearing the way for President Obama's home state to become the 15th to legalize same-sex unions.
The bill got 61 votes in the House, one more than the minimum needed to send the measure back to the Senate, which quickly signed off on a measure it had already approved in a slightly different form. Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn has said he will sign the bill.
Robyne O'Mara and Lynne Burnett, partners of 33 years and supporters of same-sex marriage, were at the Capitol to watch the House vote.
"We were just blown away," O'Mara said. "I think the momentum in our nation has convinced people. It's been an amazing ride the past several years. We're so grateful the legislators took it upon themselves and recognized that every citizen has the right to marry."
The Catholic Conference of Illinois, one of the groups that fought against the bill for years, said in a statement that it was "deeply disappointed that members of the General Assembly chose to redefine what is outside of its authority: a natural institution like marriage."
The House vote followed more than 2 1/2 hours of debate in which supporters said it was time for Illinois to make marriage equal for all and opponents raised concerns about protecting the institution of marriage and the religious beliefs of those who say marriage should be between a man and woman.
Sponsor Rep. Greg Harris, a gay Democrat from Chicago, said the state's civil union law had saddled Illinois with "inequality, unfair burden and harms added layer by layer to people simply because they live in the state of Illinois."
"To treat all our citizens equally in the eyes of the law, we must change this," Harris said.
But Democratic Rep. Mary Flowers of Chicago pointed to a passage in the book of Genesis that a man leaves his father and mother to "cleave to his wife."
Same-sex couples will "not be truly married in God's eyes," she said, and neither the church nor the Legislature has the ability to overturn the basic tenets of the Bible.
"This debate is a joke," Flowers said.
House Speaker Michael Madigan said civilization had been based on two people finding each other. "Who am I to judge that they should be illegal?" he said of same-sex couples.
Rep. Ed Sullivan, one of the few Republicans to vote in favor, said he was supporting same-sex marriage because of the influence in his life of his mother-in-law, who he said is a lesbian.
Rep. Tom Morrison said he supported "natural marriage" between a man and a woman. Morrison, a Republican, said redefining marriage could have far-reaching social implications. "Why is the state concerned with personal relationships anyway? … Real marriage is the building block of human civilization," he said.
Morrison said a vote against the bill did not mean a lawmaker was a bigot.
Democratic Rep. Kelly Cassidy, an openly gay Chicago lawmaker, urged lawmakers to consider what they will tell people in the future about the vote.
"What did you do when faced with this historic moment?" Cassidy asked.
She recounted how she had to rush from Springfield to Chicago to be with her partner, who was hospitalized in excruciating pain. Cassidy said she had to weigh whether she could go "straight to her side" or spend an extra hour picking up paperwork that showed she had the legal right to be with her.
"Please, vote 'yes' and join us on the right side of history," Cassidy said.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun