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updated: 2/15/2013 8:55 AM

Senate approves same-sex marriage on Valentine's Day

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  • The Illinois Senate approved same-sex marriage Thursday, sending the plan to the House.

      The Illinois Senate approved same-sex marriage Thursday, sending the plan to the House.
    Associated Press

  • From left, Dylan, Kathy and Angela Kokkinkos, of Aurora. Kathy and Angela have been together for 13 years and are hoping same-sex marriage legislation will be approved by the General Assembly.

      From left, Dylan, Kathy and Angela Kokkinkos, of Aurora. Kathy and Angela have been together for 13 years and are hoping same-sex marriage legislation will be approved by the General Assembly.
    Photo courtesy of Kathy and Angela Kokkinkos

  • Daniel Biss

      Daniel Biss

  • Dan Duffy

      Dan Duffy

  • Terry Link

      Terry Link

  • Matt Murphy

      Matt Murphy

  • Video: Illinois Channel Gay Marriage

  • Video: Illinois Family Institute

 
 

SPRINGFIELD -- The Illinois Senate voted to approve same-sex marriage Thursday, capitalizing on national support from its most famous former member, President Barack Obama, and pushing the legislation to the Illinois House on Valentine's Day.

"Show the world and all of our children that the state of Illinois stands for equality," said state Sen. Daniel Biss, an Evanston Democrat.

The measure was approved by a 34-21 vote.

As a result, attention now turns to the Illinois House, where lawmakers could start an effort to send the legislation to Gov. Pat Quinn as early as next week.

The Carol Stream-based Illinois Family Institute is planning a rally at the Capitol Wednesday to try to block it.

Supporting same-sex marriage is part of the national Democratic Party's platform, and Democrats have large majorities in both the Illinois House and Senate. In the suburbs, lawmakers' votes fell along party lines.

Many of the suburban freshmen Democratic senators voted for it, perhaps providing a margin of success for supporters that wasn't available before they took office last month.

"That made a huge difference," said state Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat. "People did some soul-searching."

But Thursday's narrow vote margin -- it needed 30 to pass -- shows how controversial the issue remains, even in a blue state like Illinois. While several Democrats either voted against the plan or declined to vote altogether, only one Republican, state Sen. Jason Barickman from Bloomington, voted for it.

State Sen. Dan Duffy, a Lake Barrington Republican, criticized Democrats for using their "immense power" to push a social issue as the state remains in dire financial condition.

"This marriage bill is a distraction," Duffy said during the debate on the Senate floor.

Republicans had objected that the law was unclear about whether religious organizations that oppose same-sex marriage would be required to rent out many of their facilities for ceremonies they don't approve of.

The legislation was changed Thursday, but some Republicans remained skeptical of the details, including State Sen. Matt Murphy of Palatine.

Murphy said the bill does not properly define the rights of an institution like a Catholic school, which owns religious spaces like chapels and sanctuaries and educational spaces like classrooms and gyms.

"They might end up in court to get a ruling on which space is considered a religious facility or not," Murphy said.

The other details of the legislation were more clear.

If eventually approved by Quinn, the plan would take effect 30 days after he signs the legislation. Couples that already have civil unions could get marriages by getting a license and having a ceremony.

Quinn said he supports moving forward with marriage. Illinois legalized civil unions in 2011.

Supporters argue Illinoisans don't always understand what rights couples with civil unions have, so allowing same-sex couples to marry would end that confusion. Plus, they say, civil unions don't carry the same weight in society as marriages.

Some suburban gay couples were following the news from Springfield closely Thursday.

Angela and Kathy Kokkinos of Aurora, who have been partners for the past 13 years and have a 5-year-old daughter together, obtained a civil union license last year.

However, "there is no civil union when you go to the doctor or you register your kid for school," Angela, an executive at Verizon, said.

She said passage of same-sex marriage legislation would "give us the same freedoms that everyone else has."

If the bill becomes law, Angela Kokkinos said the pair will likely apply to be married quickly. "It's definitely something we feel that we need to do in case it gets repealed," she said. "We're ready and waiting for it to make our next move."

If eventually made law, Illinois would become the 10th state in the United States to allow same-sex marriages, which are also legal in the District of Columbia.

Cook County Clerk David Orr's office is prepared to offer marriages to same-sex couples.

Orr spokeswoman Courtney Greve said that after lawmakers approved civil unions, the office set up a way that would make it easy to transition if marriage was approved.

"We could start issuing licenses to gay couples tomorrow, and would happily do so," Greve said.

Since June 1, 2011, Orr's office has handled paperwork for 2,897 same-sex civil unions and 318 civil unions for heterosexual couples.

• Daily Herald Political Editor Kerry Lester and Staff Writer Doug Graham contributed to this story.

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