Fourteen states plus Washington D.C., allow same-sex marriage. Most recently, New Jersey, Minnesota and Rhode Island have legalized it.
The road to the Illinois vote was long with stalled attempts earlier this year, something that frustrated activists in the state where Democrats lead the House, Senate and governor’s office. Chicago Democratic Rep. Greg Harris, who is the sponsor of the bill, 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 he said resonated with lawmakers. Backers also launched a furious campaign, hiring a lobbyist from the state’s largest union, the former head of the Illinois Republican Party and field organizers spanning the state.
“To treat all our citizens equally in the eyes of the law, we must change this,” Harris said on the floor. “Families have been kept apart.”
Debate lasted more than two hours, and the final roll call was met with hearty cheers and applause. Supporters’ speeches echoed themes of equality and civil rights with mentions of Obama, Martin Luther King Jr. and Matthew Shepard, a gay college student whose 1998 death sparked numerous hate crime bills.
Polls show support for gay marriage has surged since 1996, when Gallup found that 27 percent of Americans backed it. Now Gallup finds the majority support giving gay and lesbian couples the right to marry.
“Today the Illinois House put our state on the right side of history,” Quinn said in a statement. “Illinois is a place that embraces all people and today, we are an example for the nation.”
However, opponents of the legislation — which included some of the most powerful religious leaders in the state — have said marriage should remain between a man and a woman. A group of Chicago-area pastors vowed to line up primary challengers against some lawmakers who voted yes.
“This issue is not just about two adults and their emotional relational and financial commitment to another,” said Rep. Tom Morrison, a Palatine Republican. “Redefining marriage has far-reaching implications in our society.”
Three Republicans joined those voting in favor, including former House Minority Leader Tom Cross of Oswego, who had not revealed how he’d vote ahead of Tuesday. The representative stepped down from his leadership position earlier this year and is seeking statewide office as treasurer.
“For me, supporting marriage equality is not only the right decision, but also consistent with my belief in individual freedom, equality and limited government,” Cross said in a statement. He declined to talk with reporters.
The issue caused internal conflict among Illinois Republicans as the party works to balance efforts to appeal more to younger voters, minorities and women with the more socially conservative positions of some party members.
For months, the leaders of several black mega-churches lobbied the districts of black House members with an aggressive robocall campaign against gay marriage, placing an uncomfortable spotlight on the mostly Democratic black caucus. Many remained undecided until the vote neared.
On Tuesday, the African American Clergy Coalition praised those who voted against the measure.
“We will always believe that marriage is between one man and one woman,” said Bishop Larry Trotter of the coalition. “Yet we will still love the members of the LGBT community.”