On Thursday, Valentine's Day, the Illinois Senate voted to approve a bill legalizing same-sex marriage, which would make it the 10th state in the nation, along with the District of Columbia, to change its laws regarding traditional marriage.
The controversial legalization was passed by a 34-to-21 vote in the Democratic-controlled Senate, which many are seeing as a clear indication of the changing tide when it comes to same-sex laws in the country, The New York Times reported. The Illinois House is now expected to take up the legislation, and if it passes there, Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn is expected to sign the bill.
Conservative commentators, however, have said voting against traditional marriage endangers the religious freedom of churches and companies that have a moral objection to gay marriage.
"The same-sex marriage bill passed by the Illinois Senate today would violate the rights of Illinois churches and religious organizations to follow their faith free of government oppression. It would also force Illinois businesses owners to operate in fear of being shut down because of their conscientious objections to same-sex marriage," said Peter Breen, executive director and legal counsel for the Thomas More Society. The public interest law firm has long warned against legalizing gay marriage.
"Why are Illinois politicians working to trample the rights of the millions of people of faith across our state to live and work in accord with their religious beliefs?" Breen asked.
"The senators' action today serves as a declaration that their constituents' sincere beliefs about the true nature of marriage are bigoted and discriminatory. The Illinois House should reject the redefinition of marriage and this poorly drafted bill."
State Representative Greg Harris, who will now be advocating for the bill in the House, admitted that he did not believe such a rapid shift in same-sex marriage law could occur so soon – Illinois approved civil union legislation only two years ago.
"It wasn't too long ago that people did not think they would see this day," Harris said. "A lot of parents said they didn't think their children would see this day."
President Barack Obama, who served as a senator from Chicago, announced his own support for same-sex marriage last May.
Gay right groups have expressed their delight with the vote, with Jim Bennett, director of the Midwest office of Lambda Legal, a civil rights group for gay men and lesbians, expressing that he has seen lawmakers change their stance since even before the November general elections, where four other states voted in favor of gay marriage.
"The people we would have assumed were 'no' votes two months earlier now wanted to have a conversation and understand this issue more," Bennet said. "Since then, it really feels like a snowball."
As for concerns that gay marriage might infringe on people with religious and moral objections to it, a provision in the bill seeks to exempt churches from being forced to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies or host receptions. Concerns remain, however, that religious-based schools, hospitals, and other businesses would not be given the same protection.
"People have a right to live as they choose; they don't have the right to redefine marriage for all of us," said Republican State Senator Kyle McCarter.