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Senate committee approves gay marriage but fights still lie ahead

Updated at 6:18 p.m.

A Senate committee has voted to legalize gay marriage in Illinois by a vote of 8-5. It passed after senators on the committee heard testimony from both supporters and opponents of the measure.

In voting against the measure, Republican State Sen. Dale Righter did not raise questions about the morality or ethics of gay marriage, which some religious leaders expressed during the debate. Instead, Righter asked supporters detailed questions about clauses in the bill pertaining to whether religious institutions would be forced to host same-sex marriage.

“The question before us is whether or not the church facilities will be used; whether churches will have to allow their facilities to be used for those,” he said during the committee hearing.

Meantime, supporters said polls show the majority of Illinoisians now favor gay marriage. State Sen. Heather Steans, a sponsor of the measure, said same-sex civil unions, which are legal in Illinois, don’t go far enough and discriminate against gay couples.

“The second-class citizenship that’s provided by civil unions is not enough,” she said. “It really is viewed and invites the opportunity to discriminate.”

Despite the committee vote, the legislation is expected to have a tough road ahead.

Earlier Thursday, a spokeswoman for Senate President John Cullerton said the full Senate will take up the measure in “the near future.”

It also still needs to be addressed in the House of Representatives.

Sponsors want to pass the bill before Wednesday, when the new legislature is sworn in.

They have made a rapid push to make Illinois the tenth state in the country to adopt gay marriage as they look for the necessary 30 votes to approve it in the Senate.

But Rikeesha Phelon, a spokeswoman for Senate President John Cullerton’s office, said in an email to reporters on Thursday: “It is clear that we will need bipartisan support in order to take floor votes on gun safety and marriage equality this week. We will take some time to work on these important issues to advance them in the near future.”

Senate sponsors made a first attempt to pass same-sex marriage legislation Wednesday evening, but they didn’t have enough votes to stop Republicans from blocking the measure on a procedural vote.

Several religious groups have been lobbying legislators on the issue, including Cardinal Francis George from the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, who opposes same-sex marriage. Proponents say they have a coalition of more than 200 Illinois clergy who support gay marriage, however.

Even though Republican Senators blocked the first procedural move to debate gay marriage, the chairman of the Illinois Republican Party, Pat Brady, said in a statement that he favors the legislation.

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