By Lisa Sergent
SPRINGFIELD | The Illinois Senate voted Thursday afternoon to pass SB 10, which would legalize same-sex marriage in the state, by a vote of 34 to 21. The bill now faces a vote in the State House.
A few Illinois Baptists – who were vastly outnumbered by supporters of same-sex marriage – were present in the gallery for the vote and the debate which preceded it.
Many supporters compared their perceived right to same-sex marriage with the U.S. Civil Rights Act. Emotions ran high with Senators who shared stories about family members and other loved ones they felt were being discriminated against by not being allowed to marry.
John Keyes, pastor of Riverton First Baptist, who was present in the gallery, told the Illinois Baptist he was disappointed by what he heard. “We’re rushing headlong into doing it, without really being alert to what’s going to happen as a result of all this, but I also got the distinct feeling that for many, they didn’t care about that, because it’s what they wanted.”
Lawmakers who spoke against the bill did so mainly due to fears of the erosion of religious liberty. While the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago), said the amended wording would protect religious freedom, many others did not agree.
Sen. Dale Righter (R-Mattoon) expressed concern that the passage of the bill would have a chilling effect on religious organizations that might worry they would be sued if they denied same-sex couples use of their facilities.
Righter asked Steans several questions about what would be protected from public accommodation and what would not. In her answers, Steans called his questions “red herrings.”
Righter argued, “There are two issues represented in this bill – one is same-sex marriage … and the other one is the degree to which we value the principles of religious freedom set for forth in the constitution both here in Illinois and in the federal constitution. This bill doesn’t strike that balance …
“The religious organizations [parochial schools and healthcare systems] back home we all represent … are all going to have to be asking these ‘red herring’ questions. They’re not ‘red herring’ questions, they’re very real questions. The pastor back home with the small room in the basement is going to have to ask him or herself or the board, ‘What keeps us clear in the category of a religious facility as opposed to an educational facility?’”
Sen. William Haine (D-Alton) cited the position of Illinois Baptists and other religious groups while speaking against the bill. IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams wrote to all Illinois lawmakers last month explaining that in 2011, churches approved a resolution at the IBSA annual meeting registering their support for the traditional definition of marriage.
Democrats were confident going into Thursday’s vote; approval in the House, which could come as early as few weeks, is not as certain.
David Howard, Capital City Baptist Association director of missions, was also in the gallery. After the vote he shared, “I really don’t think there was a lot of thought in many of the senators’ stances. They went with the caucus; they went with whatever pressure was put upon them. But I don’t know that any of them really thought for themselves, and I’m disappointed in that.”