The rings? Check. The guest list? Check. The marriage license? Well, that remains to be seen when it comes to same-sex couples in Illinois.
While vocal opposition to same-sex marriage remains, more state politicians and organizations are backing legalization. LGBT advocates believe the gay marriage bill is very close to clearing its last real hurdle: the Illinois House. Elected officials from President Obama to U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) have endorsed gay marriage. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is considering the constitutionality of two same-sex marriage cases.
"In the last year, both in Illinois and around the rest of the country, the change in public opinion and political support has been phenomenal," said State Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), who is sponsoring the House’s gay marriage bill.
Opponents are lobbying state legislators to maintain marriage as it currently is defined under state law: a union between a man and a woman. Some say doing so serves the best interests of children.
"The state should have and does have right now a policy which obviously promotes traditional marriage, and we want to keep it that way," said Paul Caprio, director of Family-Pac, part of the Coalition to Protect Children and Marriage.
Illinois’ gay marriage bill, which was passed by the state Senate in February, would define marriage as an act between two people and give same-sex married couples the same benefits and protections as heterosexual couples. It would not require churches, mosques, synagogues, temples and other places of worship to provide their religious facilities for marriage ceremonies if such ceremonies are in violation of their religious beliefs.
The gay marriage bill has yet to be called in the House because supporters haven’t secured the 60 votes required to pass it.
If the House passes the bill and Gov. Quinn signs it into law, Illinois would become the 10th state in the country and the second in the Midwest to allow same-sex couples to marry.
The state would join Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, Washington and Washington, D.C., in legalizing gay marriage.
If gay marriage supporters fail to get the bill passed by May 31, the end of the spring session, they likely would have to wait until the fall session to address it.
Harris first proposed the gay marriage bill in 2007. Instead, civil unions for gay couples advanced, giving same-sex couples state benefits but not the federal benefits married couples get. Most states do not recognize civil unions. The Illinois General Assembly passed the civil unions bill in 2010.
The gay marriage bill has been re-introduced but has stalled until this year.
After the state Senate passed the bill on Valentine’s Day, the House bill still awaits passage.
"Just the pace of change on this topic has been unprecedented," Harris said. "I think it will continue to move in this direction. People in every walk of life are believing, let’s treat all our families equally."
A New Family Structures Study by a sociologist at the University of Texas at Austin and published last year in the Social Science Research journal found that young adults whose parents have ever had same-sex relationships fared worse in many cases than young adults raised by biological parents in heterosexual marriages.
Among the results: They were more likely to be in therapy for problems linked to anxiety and depression and more likely to have been arrested and be unemployed.
The study was criticized for its methodology and funding from conservative foundations.
The American Academy of Pediatrics published a policy statement in support of marriage equality.
"There is extensive research documenting that there is no causal relationship between parents’ sexual orientation and children’s emotional, psychosocial, and behavioral development," the statement said. "Many studies attest to the normal development of children of same-gender couples when the child is wanted, the parents have a commitment to shared parenting, and the parents have strong social and economic supports."
As the U.S. Supreme Court considers California’s ban on gay marriage and the Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal benefits to gay couples, two local cases are pending.
Two lawsuits were filed in May 2012 by Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Illinois in Cook County Circuit Court against Cook County Clerk David Orr. The suits note that same-sex couples were denied marriage licenses.
Orr agrees with the plaintiffs that gay couples should be allowed to marry. The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office and Illinois Attorney General’s Office both support the lawsuits and said the state’s gay marriage ban is unconstitutional. Cook County officials are not challenging the lawsuit, but clerks from five other counties, allowed by the court to intervene in the lawsuit, are fighting it.
State Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) has introduced gay marriage and civil union bills since 2007. He is the chief sponsor of the gay marriage bill pending in the House while state Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago) is the main sponsor of the gay marriage bill that the Senate passed. If the House passes the bill and it goes to his desk, Gov. Quinn has said he will sign it into law.
Coalition to Protect Children and Marriage
A grassroots group of opponents to gay marriage including the conservative political action committee Family-Pac, the Illinois Family Institute, Eagle Forum of Illinois, Catholic Citizens of Illinois, the Thomas More Society, Abstinence and Marriage Partnership, Lake County Right to Life and Concerned Christian Americans.
Illinois Unites for Marriage
A project of the ACLU Illinois, Equality Illinois and Lambda Legal in support of gay marriage that has been endorsed by more than 50 organizations.