The Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act passed the Illinois House Executive Committee 6-5 Tuesday night, bringing Illinois one step closer to becoming the tenth state to legalize same-sex marriage.
Having passed the State Senate 34-21 on Feb. 14, the bill must now make it through the House itself before it lands on Governor Pat Quinn’s desk. Quinn, who had previously said that he hoped to see same-sex marriage legalized in January, has said he will sign the bill. Illinois has recognized civil unions for same-sex couples since June 2011.
“I wasn’t expecting it,” sophomore and Common Ground President Rebecca Gonshak said. “I hadn’t really heard anything about it until they said it might pass in the Senate.”
The Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act comes on the heels of legislation passed in Maine, Maryland and Washington in November that legalized gay marriage. Minnesota also voted in November not to change its constitution to deny same-sex couples the right to marry.
“I’m very pleased, and I’m glad that we’re the first Midwestern state to do it, at least by the legislature and not by a Supreme Court decision,” Knox Democrats treasurer junior Josh Fishman said, referring to the fact that the Iowa State Supreme Court ruled in 2009 in favor of six same-sex couples who had been denied marriage licenses, thereby legalizing same-sex marriage in Iowa.
The push towards same-sex marriage legalization at the state level indicates a larger national trend to Gonshak, who believes that most states will pass marriage equality bills within the next 10 years.
“I had always hoped that someone would appeal to the Supreme Court and they would declare it [bans on same-sex marriage] illegal,” Gonshak said. “It’s more likely to happen in the states.”
Polls conducted in 2013 so far have found that anywhere from 48 to 54 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage. This is a major change from 10 years ago, when same-sex marriage was only supported by 20 to 30 percent of the population.
Illinois lawmakers considering how to vote on the bill will likely find similar patterns among their constituents. A February poll by Crain’s/Ipsos of Illinois adults found that 50 percent of respondents supported the bill, while only 29 percent believed that it should not pass.
Passage of the bill in the Executive Committee at 3 p.m. on Tuesday but was delayed due to debate over 27 different guns proposals. A vote by the full House could happen as early as March 1.
“I’m really happy. It’s about time,” senior Elisa Shields said. “This is something that should be true everywhere. It’s 2013. It shouldn’t be an issue anymore.”
More widespread public support may soon be accompanied by more bipartisan support nationwide. On Tuesday, 75 Republican politicians signed an amicus brief to the Supreme Court signifying their support of gay marriage as a constitutional right. The move comes before the Court hears a case in March on Proposition 8, which was declared unconstitutional on Feb. 7 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. In 2008, Proposition 8 overturned a previous California law allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry.
“Minnesota’s debating it [same-sex marriage] as well,” Fishman said. “I think there definitely is a national trend.”