In a historic Valentine's Day vote, the Illinois Senate passed a bill clearing the way for same-sex couples to be legally married in the Land of Lincoln.
The bill was approved by a vote of 34 to 21 Thursday afternoon following a vigorous debate between lawmakers who both supported and opposed the measure. Two lawmakers voted present. Only one Republican -- state Sen. Jason Barickman, of Champaign, joined a supermajority of Democrats in voting yes.
State Sen. Heather Steans, a Chicago Democrat and the bill's sponsor, called it "a vote for the history books," according to the Associated Press.
BuzzFeed posted an animated GIF of Steans celebrating after the votes were tallied:
The two present votes were two Democrats: Patricia Van Pelt Watkins, who ran for Chicago Mayor in 2011, and Napoleon Harris, who last month abandoned a campaign for ex-U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.'s seat in Congress. (How each member of the state Senate voted.)
Marriage equality proponents were cautiously confident in their odds heading in to the Thursday vote.
"I've been told it's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when it's going to be done," veteran marriage equality advocate Rick Garcia, senior policy advisor at The Civil Rights Agenda, told HuffPost last week. "Throughout the political spectrum, people [in Springfield] know marriage equality is going to happen."
What's more, Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn has already pledged that if passed, he would sign the bill into law. In his State of the State address, Gov. Quinn urged both chambers of the state General Assembly to approve the bill.
After the bill ran out of time in the General Assembly's January lame-duck session, the bill moved forward last week in the state Senate Executive Committee, for the second time.
Meanwhile, opponents of marriage equality had ramped up efforts to stop the bill's passage: Chicago Cardinal Francis George wrote a letter in January urging lawmakers to block a vote in support of marriage equlity during the lame-duck session; After Illinois Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady personally backed gay marriage, GOP leaders unsuccessfully called for his ouster.
A poll released Wednesday by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute found that 45.5 percent of respondents approved of marriage equality -- up from 33.6 percent in 2010. Only 20 percent of respondents opposing any legal recognition of same-sex relationships. The poll of 600 respondents had a 4 percent margin of error.
If the bill is also approved by the state House of Representatives, Illinois will join Washington, D.C. and nine other U.S. marriage equality states. The state has had civil unions available for same-sex couples since June 2011.
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