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Senate panel backs gay marriage, possible full Senate vote Tuesday

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SPRINGFIELD-In a day of fits and starts, a Senate panel approved a bid Thursday to make Illinois the 10th state to legalize gay marriage, paving the way for a possible floor vote next Tuesday.
Gay and lesbian couples and their supporters, many of whom wore bow ties in an act of unity, burst into applause and hugs when the Senate Executive Committee voted 8-5 to send the legislation to the Senate floor.
It was a party-line vote, with Republicans voting en masse against the plan and Democrats backing the concept of the new legal recognition sought by gay and lesbian and other civil rights advocates.
"Same-sex couples want to marry for the same reasons we all do," said Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago), chief Senate sponsor of the gay-marriage legislation.
The measure hit a series of snags this week, starting with a procedural misstep that kept it from being heard by the Senate panel as planned on Wednesday. Then, on Thursday, three key supporters were absent, leaving Steans without the necessary 30 votes to send the legislation to the House.
While Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) remained mum early Thursday evening about scheduling, Steans said her intention is to seek a full floor vote in the Senate next Tuesday, a day before this version of the General Assembly ends its two-year run and new group of legislators is seated.
"This is totally a question of when we're going to do it, not if we're going to do it," she said. "If for some reason we don't have all our members here and can't do it next week, I've been assured we'll do it very early on in the next session."
In a statement issued shortly after 6 p.m., Cullerton said he is "confident" the measure can pass but stopped short of saying when.
"Today, a few key senators could not be here for family reasons. What's important when we reconvene is that we work to protect and strengthen all Illinois families, and that's what this legislation does," Cullerton said. "I'm confident we can advance this bill in the coming weeks."
Earlier in the day, Steans identified the missing supporters as Sen. Jeff Schoenberg (D-Evanston), who is on a trip to Israel; Senate Majority Leader James Clayborne (D-Belleville), whose son had a medical emergency; and Sen. Suzi Schmidt (R-Lake Villa), whose mother died.
At the committee, where more than 150 people packed into an ornate Senate chamber, Republicans hammered away at the bill, saying it would force churches opposed to gay marriages to permit gay and lesbian couples to use their facilities despite possible objections.
But a group of religious leaders was even more forceful, saying changing state law to give gay and lesbian couples the same legal recognition as heterosexual couples when it comes to marriage would represent a distortion of natural law.
"Neither two men nor two women can possibly form a marriage. Our law would be wrong if it said they could," said Bishop Thomas John Paprocki, who heads the Roman Catholic diocese in Springfield.
"As Cardinal George has stated, when ways of nature and nature's God conflict with civil law, society is in danger," Paprocki told the panel.

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