The Illinois Senate approved legislation on Thursday that would grant same sex couples in the state all the marriage rights and protections currently available to opposite sex couples.


The state Senate approved the Religious Freedom and Marriage Equality Act by a 34-21 vote. Illinois Senate President John Cullerton had hoped the chamber would pass the bill on Valentine's Day.

"Today, we are one step closer to marriage equality in Illinois," Gov. Pat Quinn (D) said in a statement. "Couples across Illinois have even more reason today to celebrate their love for each other, thanks to the hard work of committed advocates and lawmakers. This historic legislation will strengthen our state by allowing all committed couples to enjoy the same legal protections and benefits of marriage."

The Religious Freedom and Marriage Equality Act now moves to the Illinois House, where supporters expect it to pass.

Under the bill, same sex couples would have the right to marry, but churches and other religious institutions could not be forced to solemnize those marriages if it offended their beliefs. The bill was sponsored by state Rep. Greg Harris (D) and state Sen. Heather Steans (D).

"The momentum is building," Harris said in a statement. "More and more House members are telling me they want to be on the right side of history and that they intend to support the bill. Support for marriage equality is growing nationally and in Illinois, and we’re seeing that reflected in the mood of the House."

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[Same sex marriage via Shutterstock]