SPRINGFIELD -- Illinois House lawmakers Tuesday set up a potential final showdown over legalizing same-sex marriage in the state.
A committee gave preliminary approval to same-sex marriages by a 6-5 vote, pushing forward an issue that remains hotly controversial in Illinois and divides members of both parties.
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"It will help families share love and commitment with each other," said state Rep. Greg Harris, a Chicago Democrat.
The legislation now moves to the full House. The Illinois Senate has already approved legalizing same-sex marriage and Gov. Pat Quinn has said he'd sign it into law. That leaves a full House vote as a possible final battleground.
Democrats have a large majority in the House, holding 11 more votes than they'd need to approve same-sex marriage. But not all Democrats will go along, so if a vote is taken in the coming weeks, it's likely to be close.
Republicans have largely opposed same-sex marriage, with demonstrators lobbying lawmakers at the Capitol recently.
Critics have raised moral concerns, as well as worries that some facilities owned by religious institutions like schools or hospitals would be required to allow same-sex marriages on site.
Still, there were few comments from lawmakers in the debate.
"I think everybody here knows where they're at," said state Rep. Mike Bost, a Murphysboro Republican.
While Illinois GOP Chairman Pat Brady faces a possible ouster over his support of the issue, it's unclear how many Republicans will support same-sex marriage. In the Senate, one did.
If approved, gay couples who have gotten civil unions under Illinois' 2011 law could get marriage licenses at no cost. A marriage carries few new rights compared to a civil union, but supporters argue couples in civil unions are often treated differently than married people.
Perhaps showing the importance of a handful of social issues in Springfield this year, the committee hearing began about six hours after originally scheduled as the Illinois House held a long, heated debate over gun issues in the meantime.