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The much-loved poet Dr. Maya Angelou once wrote, “Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.” It is that unrelenting power of love that unfolded during our fight for marriage equality in Illinois.
In the end, we succeeded in ensuring this civil right for all couples and put Illinois on the right side of history. Starting now, everyone in Illinois may receive the long-overdue rights of marriage. Advocates had to jump hurdles, leap fences and penetrate walls to make it happen, but we arrived at our destination. Last November 20th, I signed the Illinois Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act into law.
In 2011, when I signed Illinois’ civil union legislation, few could predict that in a few short years, marriage equality would be the law of the land. Sometimes a struggle can take decades, but change can happen overnight. Now, through the tireless efforts of advocates who have stood up and spoken out for equality across Illinois and the nation, we made history and enacted a reform that will last forever.
Since taking office, I’ve worked to make Illinois a more welcoming state. After declaring marriage equality a priority in my 2013 State of the State Address, I worked with legislators and dedicated activists. It was a difficult battle, but eventually lawmakers passed Senate Bill 10, making Illinois the 16th state to embrace full marriage equality. The bill signing last November – before thousands of joyous people at the University of Illinois at Chicago – was among the proudest moments of my governorship.
The new law is simple and fair. It requires that Illinois laws pertaining to civil marriage must apply equally to all, and guarantees equal access to benefits, protections, rights and responsibilities for all couples entering into marriage and their families. These protections include provisions under the Affordable Care Act that require insurance companies to offer the same coverage for all spouses, regardless of gender. Families will be able to enroll in a plan together through a special 60-day enrollment period.
One person who made this day possible was Vernita Gray. A tenacious activist, Vernita was loved in the community and respected by politicians. She and her partner made history when a judge ruled that, due to Vernita’s declining health, they could marry late last year – ahead of today’s effective date. Vernita passed away in March with her new wife Pat by her side.
So today, I’ll think of Vernita Gray and others unable to witness this day. I’ll think of happy couples embarking on the adventure of marriage. And I will be proud to live in a state where the will of the people can become the law of the land.