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Editorial: Gay marriage bill protects religious rights

Illinois Senate President John Cullertdiscusses pensiwith Sun-Times Editorial Board Sun-Times office Thursday January 31 2013. | JessicKoscielniak ~ Sun-Times

Illinois Senate President John Cullerton discusses pension with the Sun-Times Editorial Board at the Sun-Times office, Thursday January 31, 2013. | Jessica Koscielniak ~ Sun-Times

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Updated: March 7, 2013 6:34AM

Valentine’s Day could be exceptionally sweet for couples across Illinois this year.

A gay marriage bill is expected to come up for a vote in the Illinois Senate on Feb. 14, putting Illinois on track to become the 10th state to offer its gay citizens the full and equal rights they deserve.

Nine Illinois senators got the ball rolling Tuesday by supporting a gay marriage bill in committee, surpassing the majority needed to advance the bill to the full Senate.

After a disappointing showing in the January lame-duck session, when supporters hoped legislators would move on gay marriage, Tuesday’s vote is a crucial step.

This time around, supporters went to great pains to clarify what was always their intent: to protect the rights of religious institutions not to perform same-sex marriages. This was already embedded in the gay marriage bill, but its sponsors added an amendment to that effect for safe measure.

Senate President John Cullerton kick-started this second go-around, laying out for the Sun-Times Editorial Board last week a fast-paced schedule for passage of same-sex marriage, culminating with a Feb. 14 vote.

Illinois’ move comes as tolerance and, we hope, broad acceptance of gay individuals and couples is reaching around the globe.

On Tuesday, the British House of Commons overwhelmingly approved a bill legalizing gay marriage, the first and most important step in the path toward becoming law. It is also up for debate in the French Parliament. Domestically, President Obama set the tone in his inauguration speech, offering his strongest public affirmation of gay rights to date. That was followed by the Boy Scouts’ decision to consider dropping its national ban on gays. That reversal is up for debate at the group’s national board meeting, with a decision possible Wednesday.

Equality for all, a once radical idea, is now decidedly mainstream. If and when gay marriage becomes law in Illinois, we’ll be in good company.

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