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updated: 2/6/2013 11:14 AM

Illinois Senate gets same-sex marriage plan moving

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  • Illinois lawmakers Tuesday began the process of trying to approve gay marriage in Illinois.

      Illinois lawmakers Tuesday began the process of trying to approve gay marriage in Illinois.
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SPRINGFIELD -- Democrats restarted the push to legalize same-sex marriage in Illinois Tuesday, setting the stage for a potential Valentine's Day vote in the full Senate.

A Senate committee approved legalizing same-sex marriage by a 9-5 vote, jump-starting an idea that stalled in the Senate last month. Senate President John Cullerton has said he'd like to move forward with a full vote next week, on Valentine's Day.

Of suburban members on the panel, Republican state Sen. Matt Murphy of Palatine and Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno of Lemont voted against the plan. Democratic state Sens. Terry Link of Waukegan and Don Harmon of Oak Park voted for it.

But the often-emotional issue was turned into a mostly dense legal debate Tuesday as lawmakers argued over how same-sex marriage in Illinois would affect religious institutions.

Supporters say the law clearly protects churches that don't observe same-sex marriages from having to perform the ceremonies.

But opponents say the door remains open for religious groups having to rent out facilities they own for same-sex marriages.

Murphy said the law could prompt a wave of lawsuits to figure out which facilities could be used.

Harmon said, though, that there haven't been similar lawsuits over civil unions in Illinois.

"The civil unions law did not create a race to the courthouse," Harmon said.

Civil unions for same-sex couples became legal in Illinois less than two years ago. But supporters think the time is right for them to push for marriage, too.

President Barack Obama's high-profile support helps their cause, along with unprecedented majorities of Democratic lawmakers in Springfield.

And as the Democratic-controlled House and Senate face stunning financial challenges, they might see approving same-sex marriage as an accomplishment they can tout that doesn't cost the state money.

But Tuesday's preliminary approval doesn't guarantee success going forward. The idea of same-sex marriage remains a controversial one in Illinois, a politically diverse state.

For example, Illinois Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady of St. Charles has faced calls to resign after he made calls to GOP lawmakers in recent weeks asking them to support same-sex marriage. The national Republican Party platform opposes it.

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