Thursday, February 14, 2013

Same-sex marriage legislation heads to the Illinois House

By Meredith Colias

The Illinois Senate gave same-sex marriage proponents something else to celebrate on Valentine’s Day, approving a measure to legalize gay marriage.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Heather Steans, a Chicago Democrat, said, “The freedom to marry for all same-sex couples is a fundamental right.” Senate Bill 10 passed with 34 senators voting yes, 21 voting no and 2 voting present. Two senators did not cast votes.

Opponents argued the measure would not do enough to protect religious institutions if it is signed into law. The prior version of the bill already exempted religious institutions such as churches, mosques, synagogues and non-denominational ministries from being required to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies. In an effort to address their complaints, Steans added an amendment today that said that “sanctuaries, parish halls, fellowship halls and similar facilities” also would not be required open their doors to same-sex marriage ceremonies or celebrations, such as receptions. The bill still requires businesses, health care facilities, educational organizations and social service agencies to follow the state’s existing anti-discrimination laws. Steans said that under such laws, private parochial schools and private clubs have “total control” over their own property. Steans said called arguments that churches may still somehow be forced to participate in same-sex marriage a “red herring.”

Sen. Dale Righter, a Mattoon Republican, voted against the measure, saying the bill was too confusing for religious institutions to know how they would be exempt from its requirements, especially for facilities used for multiple purposes. He said religious leaders would ask the questions that Steans called a “red herring.” “Fear of what may happen will cause churches to one degree or another to pull back” from community outreach, Righter said.

Other critics centered their opposition directly on the issue of granting marriage rights to same-sex couples. “They don’t have the right to redefine marriage for all of us,” said Sen. Kyle McCarter, a Lebanon Republican. Sen. Kaome Raoul, a Chicago Democrat, noted how he “personally evolved” on gay marriage, saying the sky would not fall with passage of the measure. “We are going to go about our ways in the same way we are now,” he said.

 Opponents also called the bill a distraction from the state’s continuing pension crisis. “You have spent months [considering this] while the ship is sinking,” said Sen. Tom Bivins, a Dixon Republican. Steans responded to critics, saying the General Assembly was capable at looking at both issues.

One Republican voted for the measure. Sen. Jason Barickman, a Champaign Republican, said he voted for the measure once he was satisfied it adequately protected religious organizations. “What I was concerned about was doing the right thing,” he said.

Opponents said they were not surprised by today’s vote, but they see the House as the real battleground. “We had expectations it could pass the Senate. The House is always our stronger suit, and we are going to work on that,” said Ralph Rivera, legislative liaison for the Illinois Family Institute. Steans said today’s vote “sends hopefully a lot of momentum over to the House.” The House bill’s main sponsor, Rep. Greg Harris, a Chicago Democrat, said the successful Senate vote was a sign there would be support for passage in the House. “Now is the time to get it done,” he said. The legislation will need at least 60 votes to pass the House.

Gov. Pat Quinn praised its passage in a prepared statement and urged a successful vote in the House. “Full equality for all people is right for Illinois,” he said.

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