Illinois took one step closer to granting same-sex couples the right to marry today.
On Valentine's Day, the Illinois Senate voted 34-21 in favor of a marriage equality bill that would allow same-sex marriage in the state, sending the legislation to the House.
Although the bill is expected to face a tougher batter in the House, Gov. Pat Quinn (D) has said he will sign the bill if it reaches his desk.
Nine states and D.C. recognize same-sex marriage. Two years ago, Illinois legalized civil unions for gay and straight couples.
The debate that played out in the Democratically controlled Senate today echoed those that have played out in state legislatures across the country. Supporters argued that the bill would extend rights to LGBT people currently denied to them while protecting religious groups from being forced to perform same-sex weddings.
"The sky is not falling, Chicken Little," said Democratic Sen. Kwame Raoul.
Opponents, however, said the bill was a slippery slope that would erode religious freedom
"People have the right to live as they choose. They don't have the right to redefine marriage for all of us," said Republican Sen. Kyle McCarter, who predicted freedom would be jeopardized by the bill. Taking issue with the scheduling of the vote on Valentine's Day, McCarter went on to say the vote was scheduled on a holiday celebrating love to "disguise what is truly a devaluing of traditional marriage."
One Republican voted for the bill and three Democrats voted against. Two Democrats voted "present" and two others did not vote.
Advocates have set their sights on Illinois as one of the next states likely to legalize marriage equality, investing money and resources into that fight.
"History is happening before our eyes," said Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois, in a statement. "We have just one last hurdle to clear to ensure that all loving, committed couples in Illinois have the freedom to marry."
In December, President Barack Obama, through a spokesman, endorsed same-sex marriage in his home state of Illinois. Speaking to the Chicago Sun-Times, White House spokesman Shin Inouye said the president would vote for the measure if he was still serving in the Illinois General Assembly.
"While the president does not weigh in on every measure being considered by state legislatures, he believes in treating everyone fairly and equally, with dignity and respect," Inouye said. "As he has said, his personal view is that it's wrong to prevent couples who are in loving, committed relationships, and want to marry, from doing so. Were the president still in the Illinois State Legislature, he would support this measure that would treat all Illinois couples equally."
[Photo: Illinois Senate chamber (Credit: Daniel Schwen/Wikimedia Commons).]