Illinois Becomes 16th State to Legalize Gay Marriage; Law Group Warns of Threat to Religious Freedom

While Illinois became the 16th state in the U.S. to legalize same-sex marriage on Wednesday, with Gov. Pat Quinn calling it an "epic victory" for America, a non-profit law group has warned that the new law may threaten religious freedom for those opposed to the practice.

"This new law is an epic victory for equal rights in America. Illinois is moving forward. We are a model for our country. If the Land of Lincoln can achieve marriage equality, so can every other state in the nation," Quinn said after signing the bill.

The gay marriage law, which takes effect on June 1, 2014, was pushed by the Illinois governor throughout the 2013 legislative sessions. Quinn has been a long-time supporter of expanding the definition of marriage, and in 2011 signed a civil union legislation, which has allowed more than 6,000 couples across the state to join in civil unions.

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The new law, however, which ran as Senate Bill 10 sponsored by State Senator Heather Steans (D-Chicago) and State Representative Greg Harris (D-Chicago), guarantees equal access to status, benefits, protections, rights and responsibilities for all couples entering into marriage and their families.

"I couldn't be prouder of Illinois today as we become the 16th state to write equality into our marriage laws," Senator Steans said. "This is a day to celebrate the hard work of so many Illinois families whose commitment to human rights and basic fairness made this moment possible."

"This is a very proud day for the state of Illinois and a happy day for thousands of Illinois families who will now be treated equally in the eyes of the law. I want to thank Governor Quinn, Speaker Madigan and my colleagues for making this day possible," Representative Harris added.

The Roman Catholic Church in Illinois with Bishop Thomas John Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield have taken a defense of traditional marriage, however, with the bishop insisting that same-sex marriage goes contrary to God's intentions.

"It is scandalous that so many Catholic politicians are responsible for enabling the passage of this legislation and even twisting the words of the pope to rationalize their actions despite the clear teaching of the church," Paprocki said in a statement. "All politicians now have the moral obligation to work for the repeal of this sinful and objectionable legislation. We must pray for deliverance from this evil which has penetrated our state and our church."

And although the new law promises to protect religious freedom, non-profit law firm the Thomas More Society has argued that it is not fair to people with religious convictions.

"Because the general assembly left out specific protections for individuals, businesses, religious organizations, and religious charities, we will have to discover the boundaries of this act through litigation," said Peter Breen, vice president and senior counsel of the Thomas More Society.

Tom Brejcha, president and chief counsel at the Thomas More Society, added that "the idea that free people can be 'compelled by law to compromise the very religious beliefs that inspire their lives' as the 'price of citizenship' is a chilling and unprecedented attack on freedom."

Brejcha warned that people can be affected by the new law in a number of ways, including how they live out their faith, educate their children, and operate their business. The law group has also written a letter to legislators warning that the same-sex marriage bill "would be the worst in US in protecting religious liberty," which can be read on its official website.

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