At approximately 4:30PM CST on November 20, 2013, Illinois became the 16th state in the United States of America to legalize same-sex marriage.

Written and co-sponsored by Illinois state Representative Greg Harris and Senator Heather Steans, the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act provides that,

All laws of this State applicable to marriage apply equally to marriages of same-sex and different-sex couples and their children; parties to a marriage and their children, regardless of whether the marriage is of a same-sex or different-sex couple, have the same benefits, protections, and responsibilities under law; parties to a marriage are included in any definition or use of terms such as "spouse", "family", "immediate family", "dependent", "next of kin", "wife", "husband", "bride", "groom", "wedlock", and other terms that refer to or denote the spousal relationship, as those terms are used throughout the law, regardless of whether the parties to a marriage are of the same sex or different sexes; and, to the extent that laws of this State adopt, refer to, or rely upon provisions of federal law as applicable to this State, parties to a marriage of the same sex and their children shall be treated under the laws of this State as if federal law recognized the marriages of same-sex couples in the same manner as the laws of this State

Any religious denomination or Indian Nation or Tribe or Native Group, or any minister, clergy, or officiant acting as a representative of a religious denomination or Indian Nation or Tribe or Native Group is free to choose which marriages it will solemnize. No refusal by a religious denomination or Indian Nation or Tribe or Native Group, or any minister, clergy, or officiant acting as a representative of a religious denomination or Indian Nation or Tribe or Native Group to solemnize any marriage under this Act shall create or be the basis for any civil, administrative, or criminal penalty, claim, or cause of action.
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Marriage equality has steadily advanced in the state of Illinois on par with similar efforts in the nation. Representative Harris first introduced the bill in 2007 and again 2009. Senator Steans first introduced her Equal Marriage Bill in 2010. A year later, same-sex couples were granted, "all of the recognitions and benefits available under Illinois law to spouses," with the passing of the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act in 2011. [ 2 ]

To many, the passing of a marriage equality law seemed to be a foregone conclusion. Harris refiled the bill in 2013 as SB0110 in the 98th Illinois General Assembly where the bill was ratified and passed the senate 34-21. Yet, an unlikely coalition of white conservative and black religious leaders successfully lobbied to defeat the bill. In particular, the Coalition to Protect Children and Marriage, comprised of influential black pastors, threatened that they would influence their sizeable south side Chicago congregations to retaliate against their representatives should they support the bill. Many of these representatives, such as Monique Davis, bristled at the notion forwarded by some in the local media that same-sex marriage is a civil rights issue, “Have they ever hung from trees? Were they ever slaves for 500 years? Then I don’t think so.” The threats of this self-called "Black Caucus" were successful and the bill did not come to a vote. However, Representative Harris successfully extended the deadline for a vote until August 31, 2013. [ 3 ]

This local setback was eclipsed on June 26, 2013 when the United States Supreme Court made two influential rulings on marriage equality. First, the court voted 5-4 to strike down the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Second, the court declined to vote on the legality of California's Proposition 8 on technical grounds. This effectively upheld the decision of a lower federal court, that the law was unconstitutional.

Area Catholics, traditional opponents of same-sex marriage, unexpectedly found themselves conflicted by recent statements by Pope Francis who said, "If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge him?" Influential house speaker Michael Madigan, cited this quote in support of the bill. Chicago mayor Rahm Emmanuel also supported the bill. The Chicago Archbishop, Cardinal Francis George, however, remained opposed in a letter stating, "The state has no power to create something that nature itself tells us is impossible (and) against the good of society." [ 4 ] [ 5 ]

The house vote finally came on November 5, 2013, after months of intense lobbying by opponents and supporters and some not-insignificant soul-searching [ 4 ] . After a two-and-a-half hour debate, the bill passed with only a single vote more than necessary to pass, 61-54 with 2 voting present. Unlike many bills decided strictly along party lines, the bill had Democratic opponents, such as those with large black constituencies, and Republican supporters, such as the state party chairperson Pat Brady.

The Bill returned to the Senate, as it had been amended, which voted again to pass it on to the Governor's desk. Eight days before Thanksgiving, in front of a backdrop of star-spangled and rainbowed flags, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed SB0110 into law upon a desk which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his first inaugural address. Before signing, the Governor Quinn declared,

"Love never fails, and I am going to sign this bill right now."


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