Illinois legislators moved closer to legalizing same-sex marriage Thursday when the Senate gave it the green light with a 34-21 vote on Valentine's Day.
Should it be approved by members of the House and signed by Gov. Pat Quinn, the bill would extend the same rights to all married couples, whether they're same-sex couples or not.
Same-sex couples have been able to be united in a civil union in Illinois since June 2011, when the law allowed it. In Kane County, 185 couples have filed for civil unions since it became legal.
Lynn Steele is a member of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Geneva, where he said some civil unions have taken place. At the church, he chairs a group called Interweave, which is for gay and lesbian church members, and their friends and allies. He said the group includes 28 people.
"We're extremely pleased about this and have been supportive of marriage equality for a long time now," he said. "So we are very pleased that the process is moving along."
He said he and his wife are involved with Interweave because they want to support their daughter, Laura Steele, and her partner, Amanda Littauer, who have formed a civil union.
"If they were allowed to be married in the state of Illinois, they would have the same protections as heterosexual couples who are married in the state of Illinois," Steele said. "The civil union only goes so far with giving them all of their civil rights. It's not the same dignity as full marriage has."
Catholic leaders have been critical of the move toward legalizing same-sex marriage. Bishop David Malloy, head of the Catholic Diocese of Rockford, which includes churches in the Tri-Cities and Kaneland area, issued a statement following Thursday's vote saying that the Senate's actions do not respect God's plan or "our human nature."
In the statement, he called the move "a deplorable misstep that will serve to erode the very strength and foundation of our society."
Malloy goes on to say that redefining marriage between two people, rather than between a man and woman, "ignores the unique nature of this institution that is in the complementarity of men and women," which he said is intimately linked to procreation and raising children who have a right to a mother and a father.
Illinois GOP Chairman Pat Brady, of St. Charles, has been vocal about his support of same-sex marriage in recent weeks – a move that caused some Republican committeemen, including state Sen. Jim Oberweis, R-Sugar Grove, to try to convene a meeting to discuss removing Brady from his post.
Oberweis, was one of the 21 senators who voted against the bill Thursday.
"I've grown up Catholic, and I believe marriage is between a man and a woman," he said last week, before the vote took place.
Oberweis said he believes religious freedoms should not be dictated, and he said one of his concerns was that the bill didn't go far enough to protect religious freedoms.
The bill was amended before Thursday's vote, adding language that states, "Any religious denomination ... is free to choose which marriages it will solemnize or celebrate."
State Sen. Karen McConnaughay, R-South Elgin, also voted against the bill. She did not return a message seeking comment.
Brady said he believes same-sex marriage is a discrimination and constitutional issue. He said he thinks same-sex marriage is seeing more overall support in Illinois.
"I think in general, the majority of Illinoisans support it whether they call themselves Republicans, Democrats or independents," he said. "That's changed over the last few years. People see which way it's going, and they see it's a good thing – the appropriate thing to do."
Steele said he hopes the House approves the bill because he said he would love for his daughter and her partner to be "fully recognized and married in the state of Illinois."