Updated: State Senate approves gay marriage bill; measure moves to House
Updated 9:50 p.m. Thursday.
SPRINGFIELD — Sponsors of a gay marriage bill in the Illinois Senate were hoping to get some Republican votes on the measure in order to show bipartisan support, especially in advance of a vote in the House.
They got only one Republican vote, and it was from an unexpected source: newly elected Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington.
Barickman, 37, the former Champaign County Republican Party chairman who grew up on a farm, is married and the father of two young children, was elected to the Senate in November and represents a district that includes Ford, Iroquois and Livingston counties, some of the most conservative Republican counties in the state.
Some Republicans had said yes votes were possible from a handful of veteran suburban lawmakers, but not from Barickman.
But he said after the vote that he thought it "was the right thing to do," although he added he hadn't decided to vote for the groundbreaking legislation until Thursday morning.
Barickman said he was "directly involved" in negotiations with the bill's sponsor, Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, on an amendment, added Thursday, "that I believe does an adequate job of protecting the religious freedoms that I have strongly supported. And as I listened to my constituents and others around the state, that is what is most concerning about this bill as it moves forward: How do you protect the religious rights of those who do not agree (with gay marriage)? This bill does that and I'm glad to have helped make that happen."
Barickman had announced on the Senate floor shortly before the 34-21 Valentine's Day roll call vote on Senate Bill 10 that he intended to support the bill.
"The original bill did not include those protections (for religious groups to be allowed to bar same-sex marriages and celebrations on their property). I raised my concerns with the sponsor and appreciate her willingess to address them," Barickman said in the unusually quiet Senate chamber. "Because of the amendment to the bill, this bill now protects the religious freedoms of people around our state.
"Along with these religious protections I believe that the people of Illinois want our government to give individuals freedom over their life decisions. We want fairness under the law and for me this is simply the right thing to do."
His dramatic statement led to sustained applause — the only such outburst before the vote — from the Senate galleries which were filled with supporters of gay marriage.
"It's a vote that I understand some have varying opinions on, but I feel that I voted in the correct way," he said shortly after the vote.
In the long term, there might be political fallout for Barickman although state Treasurer Dan Rutherford, who represented much of the same district as a state senator, was the only GOP vote for civil unions in Illinois two years ago.
"The district I represent has a history of supporting those who are willing to do the right thing," Barickman added.
Asked about a potential challenge from another Republican, Barickman said, "Those are political, potential ramifications, but what I was concerned about was doing the right thing."
Although all of Barickman's Republican colleagues voted against the bill, state Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, was among the four downstate Democrats to support it, joining Andy Manar of Bunker Hill and David Koehler of Peoria and Mike Jacobs of Moline.
Frerichs said he had no problem voting for the measure, even though he said some constituents had urged him to vote no.
In floor debate, he noted that Illinois allows older couples, incapable of having children, to marry.
"I've seen people who are past their child-bearing years. So for people who say that the purpose of marriage is to produce children, why do we allow them to marry? We allow them to marry because they are people who have found someone they want to spend their lives with, and that's why we allow them to do it, and why we should allow this as well," Frerichs said.
Like Barickman, Frerichs said he thought voting to legalize same-sex marriage in Illinois "is the right thing to do."
The amendment to the bill Thursday was to assure religious groups that ministers would not be forced to "solemnize" a same-sex marriage, nor would churches be ordered to allow same-sex couples to use their churches or halls for celebrations.
But opponents of the measure, including Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, said they were not satisfied with the amended legislation. Righter repeatedly questioned Steans in floor debate about how she thought the legislation would restrict religious groups.
"I was trying to find out what Reverend Mathews back home is going to have to do in order to make sure he doesn't expose the facility to being a place of public accommodation," said Righter, a former prosecutor.
He said he wasn't assured the bill would not present legal problems for churches and religious groups.
"In the time I spent talking to her, I raised a minute fraction of the questions that are going to be asked, and the examples that they are going to face in dealing with this issue," Righter said. "Literally we would have to talk for a week about the potential problems. That's what you have to do on bills like this."
The legislation now moves to the House, where support is believed to be less firm.
Bishop Daniel Jenky of the Peoria Catholic Diocese has scheduled a "lobby day" in Springfield next Wednesday for Catholics to come and urge lawmakers to oppose the bill.
Gov. Pat Quinn, a Catholic, already has said he will sign the bill, however.