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Gay and lesbian couples in Illinois and their children will have access to state marriage benefits following the passage of legislation Tuesday that would permit same-sex couples to legally wed in the state.
The Religious Freedom and Marriage Equality Act — S.B. 0010 — was narrowly approved in the state's House of Representatives by a vote of 61-54, with three Republicans voting in favor of the bill and 13 Democrats voting against or abstaining.
Following the House's vote, the state Senate quickly reaffirmed its approval of the bill, having already voted in favor of its passage in February.
Illinois Gov. Patrick Quinn is expected to sign the legislation later this week, making Illinois the 15th state to legalize same-sex marriage and the second state to do so following the U.S. Supreme Court's partial overturn of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
Under the bill, gay and lesbian couples and their children would be granted “access to the status, benefits, protections, rights and responsibilities of civil marriage” provided by state law beginning June 1, 2014.
“Today the Illinois House put our state on the right side of history,” Gov. Quinn said in a statement released on Tuesday. “Illinois is a place that embraces all people and today, we are an example for the nation.”
The legislation's passage also drew praise from President Barack Obama, who served as an Illinois state senator prior to his election to the U.S. Senate in 2004 and who voiced his support for same-sex marriage on national television in May of 2011.
“I have always believed that gay and lesbian Americans should be treated fairly and equally under the law,” President Obama said in a statement released Tuesday evening. “Over time, I also came to believe that same-sex couples should be able to get married like anyone else.”
“I also commend the members of the General Assembly for approaching this issue in a fair and open way, and for recognizing the importance of our commitment to religious freedom by engaging the religious community in this conversation,” the president added.
In addition to legalizing same-sex marriage, the bill would protect ministers, clergy and other religious officiants from civil, criminal and administrative penalties if they refuse to preside over same-sex marriages.
Religious organizations would similarly be exempted from being required to host same-sex marriages in their facilities or on their grounds. That exemption would not extend to private businesses, health care and educational facilities and social service agencies.
“Throughout this debate, they've made it clear that this is about civil marriages and civil laws, and made sure that churches and other institutions of faith are still free to make their own decisions that conform to their own teachings,” President Obama said.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday declared unconstitutional key provisions of the controversial 1996 law that prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriages.