Danielle Cook (far right) testified in favor of the bill. Her partner, Suzie, and their son, Caleb, looked on from the audience.
Danielle Cook testifies about the difference she sees between civil unions, which are currently legal for gay couples in Illinois, and marriage.
A bill legalizing gay marriage in Illinois overcame an important hurdle on Tuesday when it was approved by a Senate committee.
The bill was approved 9-5 and will now advance to the full Senate for a vote. Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) has said he hopes to call the bill for a vote on Valentine’s Day.
State Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago), leading sponsor of the bill, said at the hearing, “Same-sex couples want to marry for the same reasons we all do: For the kind of respect [and] commitment to family, the obligations and benefits that come with marriage.”
She also pointed out that if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the Defense of Marriage Act this spring, an Illinois gay marriage law would allow gay married couples immediate access to more than 1,000 benefits heterosexual married couples currently enjoy.
Danielle Cook, a Bloomington resident who has been with her partner, Suzie Hutton, for more than a decade, testified at the hearing.
“I want our relationship to be given the respect that only marriage provides,” Cook said.
Opponents’ primary concern with the bill is that it doesn’t do enough to protect the religious freedom of churches and businesses that oppose gay marriage.
“We may not always agree with what everybody’s faith teaches, but everybody has a right to freely practice their faith,” said Joe La Rue of the Alliance Defending Freedom. “This bill does not offer protections for those who disagree with same-sex marriage, but who will be asked to participate in same-sex marriages because of their businesses.”
A representative from Lambda Legal, a national legal organization that advocates for lesbians and gays, pointed out at the hearing that nothing in the bill forces a church to perform a same-sex marriage, as that would be contrary to both the federal and state constitutions.
A gay marriage bill was previously approved by a senate committee in January, but wasn’t called for a vote because several critical supporters were not present for the vote.
Both Cullerton and Steans have said that they’re confident they have the necessary 30 votes to pass the bill out of the full Senate. The bill would then move on to the House, where it may have a harder time.
Gov. Pat Quinn has already said he will sign the bill if and when it hits his desk, which would make Illinois the 10th state to legalize gay marriage.