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Illinois Senate passes Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act

Marriage equality may become a reality in the near future in the state of Illinois as the Senate passed the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act.

In a 34-21-2 vote on Feb. 14, the Illinois Senate passed the bill which was hotly contested for many weeks. This act will go before the House of Representatives by the end of the 98th General Assembly.

The vote mostly fell along party lines, with the exception of Senator Jason Barickman of Champaign. The Republican broke ranks with his party to support equal rights for all couples, regardless of sexual orientation, taking quite a bit of criticism from his own party for doing so. Still, he continues to insist he only did what he feels was right.

“Given the supermajority control the Democrats have, it was only a matter of time before same-sex marriage becomes legal in Illinois,” Barickman said. “Because of that, I thought it was prudent for me to engage myself in the process and make sure we do it right.”

The senator found that many of his colleagues felt the time was right to get the issue off the table, considering that it was a staple issue against Republicans.

Reaction was mixed from his constituents, ranging from applause and tears to anger and frustration. More of the latter than the former, it seemed, as ultra-conservative groups, such as Illinois Family Action, called his vote “lousy” and his defense of it “feckless.”

Around campus, reaction was mostly positive to the news.  Cheick Nombre, MPA graduate student, said, “True Freedom is about allowing everyone, regardless of their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and religious belief, to be free. True Freedom is free. Freedom is not truly free if our gay brothers and sisters aren’t allowed to marry on the sole basis of their sexual orientation. Our state is long overdue in rectifying this and it’s my sincere hope that it will.”

According to the bill, the Act will not require religious institutions to offer services pertaining to the act of joining same-sex couples in marriage. Republican senators amended the bill in committee to improve what they said were protections and provisions for traditional institutions in religious society, which netted the sole Republican vote on the floor.

Illinois has a long history of tolerance and equality dating back to 1967 when it became the first state in the Union to repeal its’ sodomy laws. This, according to gay-rights advocates, should be no different. And while Illinois is not at the forefront of this wave of societal change, it can certainly stand as one of those few leading the way.

Either way, the Illinois General Assembly will have a verdict on the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act sometime this spring. Interested parties are directed to the Illinois General Assembly website at www.ilga.gov to follow the passage of SB 10 through the system, and are invited to observe the floor vote in the House.

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