Illinois has joined 15 other states and the District of Columbia in allowing same-sex marriage after Gov. Pat Quinn signed the legislation on Wednesday.
The signing, in front of a wildly cheering crowd at the University of Illinois, had been expected after the House gave final passage to the bill Nov 6. The law becomes effective June 1.
Surrounded by dignitaries including Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Quinn started by asking for silence for the six residents of his state who died recently in severe storms that swept through the Midwest. "In our great country we are all in this together," he said, setting the tone of working together that marked the celebration of the law.
There was a mood of euphoria as public officials praised efforts by grass-roots groups to pass the law. The theme among the officials is that the state has finally taken a long-overdue step in extending civil rights to gays.
"We are the land of Lincoln and we understand," said Quinn, who went on to quote the Gettysburg Address about creating a new nation "conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."
"We want to have a new birth of freedom across America," Quinn said, then signed the law at a desk once used by President Lincoln.
Same-sex marriage has politically and socially divided the nation, though it has grown increasingly more accepted. In a Gallup poll in July, 52% of respondents said they would vote for a law legalizing gay marriage, and 42% said they would not. As recently as 1996, polls showed that 68% said they did not believe same-sex marriages should be valid, while 27% said they approved.
Just a year ago, only six states -- Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, Connecticut and Iowa -- plus the District of Columbia recognized same-sex marriage, but that number has been steadily rising.
In 2012, Maine, Maryland and Washington voted to allow marriage by same-sex couples with passage of ballot initiatives. Gay marriage also became legal this year in California, Delaware, Minnesota and Rhode Island.
Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down parts of the Defense of Marriage Act in June, the number of states backing gay marriage has increased. Hawaii's governor signed a gay marriage law last week, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie dropped his legal opposition to such unions last month after the courts effectively made same-sex marriage legal.
Christie had argued that he would prefer to have the issue decided in a statewide vote, but the courts held that constitutional rights were being violated by withholding state marriage because of recent federal rulings.