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updated: 11/5/2013 9:32 PM

How Illinois' vote for same-sex marriage unfolded

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  • Joe Serio, left, and his partner Paul Dombrowski, of Palatine, were advocates for legalized same-sex marriage and say they'll be "first in line June 1," the date of Illinois' first same-sex marriages.

       Joe Serio, left, and his partner Paul Dombrowski, of Palatine, were advocates for legalized same-sex marriage and say they'll be "first in line June 1," the date of Illinois' first same-sex marriages.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, left, and Illinois Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, right, look on as gay marriage legislation passes on the House floor during veto session Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013 in Springfield Ill. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

      Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, left, and Illinois Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, right, look on as gay marriage legislation passes on the House floor during veto session Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013 in Springfield Ill. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

  • Illinois Rep. Greg Harris, a Chicago Democrat, speaks to lawmakers while on the House floor during veto session Tuesday in Springfield.

      Illinois Rep. Greg Harris, a Chicago Democrat, speaks to lawmakers while on the House floor during veto session Tuesday in Springfield.
    Associated Press

  • Ed Sullivan Jr.

      Ed Sullivan Jr.

  • Tom Cross

      Tom Cross

  • Fred Crespo

      Fred Crespo

  • Video: Couple Reacts - Gay Marriage

 
 

SPRINGFIELD -- One lawmaker's heart-to-heart talk with his father, a retired minister. Another's reflections on his own mixed-race marriage, which once would have been illegal. Another's support for his mother-in-law, who is gay.

@$ID/[No paragraph style]:Those factors swayed some suburban legislators to vote in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage Tuesday, helping it gain approval in both the state House and Senate. Gov. Pat Quinn says he'll sign it into law, making Illinois the 15th state to allow same-sex marriage when it goes into effect June 1.

That is a troubling step for opponents, many of whom have deep religious objections to same-sex marriage and concerns about a family structure that doesn't include one man and one woman.

Suburban Democrats in the Illinois House -- including those at one time perceived to be on the fence -- largely stuck together in supporting the bill, forming a sizable bloc of votes that helped win the issue narrow approval.

And state Rep. Tom Cross of Oswego, just weeks ago the House's top Republican, joined state Reps. Ed Sullivan of Mundelein and Ron Sandack of Downers Grove as the only House GOP members to vote "yes."

Cross said he "reached out to trusted and respected people in my life, including my father, who is a retired minister, my family and my own minister. In my discussions with them, it became very clear to me that supporting marriage equality was a stance consistent with those principles that have been so central to my thinking over these many years."

The proposal needed 60 votes for approval in the Illinois House and got 61, so Republican support could have been decisive. The Senate followed with a 32-21 "yes" vote, echoing their approval from back in February and sending the legislation to Quinn.

President Barack Obama applauded the General Assembly where he once served, also praising portions of the law that allow religious organizations to refuse to marry same-sex couples.

"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," he said in a statement.

As one practical benefit, same-sex couples who are married will be able to file joint federal tax returns, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

In Illinois, opponents felt lobbying pressure just like supporters over the summer months. State Rep. David Harris, an Arlington Heights Republican, described meeting with a religious leader who urged him to vote "yes" and called him "homophobic" when he disagreed.

"It shows the tenor of the debate," Harris said.

He said he rejects the suggestion people who vote against same-sex marriage don't care about civil rights.

"Are those black ministers who represent so many African-American congregations ... around this state, are they bigots who don't care about civil rights? I think not," Harris said.

Religion was at the center of the debate, and state Rep. Tom Morrison, a Palatine Republican, argued the approval of same-sex marriage could pave the way to polygamy.

"A 'no' vote today simply preserves the current social order, which has served us well for thousands of years," he said.

The road to the Illinois vote was long with a stalled attempt earlier this year, something that frustrated activists in a state where Democrats lead the House, Senate and governor's office. Chicago Democratic Rep. Greg Harris, who is the proposal's lead sponsor, decided not to bring the bill for a vote in May because he said he simply didn't have the support.

Then the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to strike down a provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, something Harris said resonated with lawmakers. Backers also launched a furious campaign, hiring a union lobbyist, the former head of the Illinois Republican Party and field organizers statewide.

Eventual supporters like state Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, an Aurora Democrat, faced competing protests at her district office over the summer after saying she was undecided.

On Tuesday, Chapa LaVia held up marriage certificates on the House floor as she gave her speech, saying they were printed on paper "paid for by using taxpayers' money."

"Not all taxpayers have equal rights to purchase these papers from government," she said.

State Rep. Fred Crespo, a Hoffman Estates Democrat, said after the vote that his own mixed-race marriage helped sway him to a "yes" vote.

It was welcome news for suburban gay couples like Paul Dombrowski and Joe Serio of Palatine, who were among the demonstrators at the Illinois Capitol last month urging lawmakers to support same-sex marriage. Opponents held a separate demonstration the same week.

Dombrowski said he and Serio separately watched the debate Tuesday online from work, "glued to every second of it."

"We got goose bumps," Dombrowski said. "It was amazing."

Like other couples that already have Illinois civil unions, they can convert theirs to a marriage for no fee starting June 1.

"My thought is we'll be first in line June 1," Dombrowski said.

By then, lawmakers will be past the March 18 primary election, which could reflect how Republican voters in the suburbs feel about the issue.

Earlier this year, former Illinois Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady of St. Charles was nearly ousted after Republican state Sen. Jim Oberweis of Sugar Grove and others objected to his lobbying in favor of same-sex marriage.

Both Sullivan and Sandack face potential primary election challengers that don't share their support of same-sex marriage, and at least one conservative political action committee is looking to put money behind those challengers.

Sullivan's primary challenge in particular has been one of the more visible signs that same-sex marriage remains controversial in the suburbs, but he spoke at length on the House floor Tuesday about his gay mother-in-law and his decision to vote "yes."

"If I vote against this bill, a bill I believe in, that I believe is the right thing to do, how do I face my children? How do I tell them that there's something wrong with their grandmother?" Sullivan said. "Well, I can't, and I won't."

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