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Gay marriage passes Illinois Senate: Future murky in House

Gay marriage passes the Illinois Senate with a 34-21 Valentine's Day vote. It faces a tougher sell in the Democrat-controlled House, despite support from Gov. Pat QuinnSar.

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Steans has said that's not the case. But before approving the measure Thursday, the Senate attached an amendment that states no church or other religious organization may be sued if they don't allow their parishes to be used for same-sex marriage ceremonies. The amendment was an effort to further reassure Republicans in hopes of picking up at least some bipartisan support.

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It worked. Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Champaign, was the only Republican to vote yes. He said he was a no vote until the amendment, which he worked on with Steans.

Barickman received a round of applause from onlookers in the Senate gallery when he stood during floor debate and explained his vote.

"I believe that the people of Illinois want our government to give individuals freedom over their life decisions," Barickman said. "We want fairness under the law, and so for me, this is simply the right thing to do."

After picking up seats in November, Democrats entered the current legislative session with control of 40 seats in the Senate, where 30 votes are required to advance most measures. The Senate Executive Committee approved the gay marriage bill on a party-line vote last week, setting up Thursday's floor action.

Jim Bennett, regional director for Lambda Legal, said supporting same-sex marriage is "both politically smart and morally right."

"I think it's a safer vote to vote with us than to vote against us at this point," Bennett said.

The issue has caused internal conflict among Republicans as the party works balance its efforts to appeal more to younger voters, minorities, and women with the more socially conservative positions of some members.

After Illinois GOP Chairman Pat Brady announced his support for gay marriage during the lame-duck legislative session, saying it was a civil rights issue, some Republicans called for his ouster. Opponents of gay marriage pledged to fund primary challenges to any Republican who voted in favor of the bill.

Three Democrats joined Republicans in voting no, while two were absent and two voted present.

In addition to religious freedom concerns, opponents said Thursday they worried that the bill would change what children are taught in schools. Others said it would diminish the sanctity of marriage.

"People have a right to live as they choose," said Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon. "They don't have a right to redefine marriage for all of us."

Supporters said it was a matter of civil rights. Several lawmakers talked about family and friends who are gay and wanting to give them the same rights and protections that opposite-sex couples enjoy.

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