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Chicago (AFP) – Illinois was poised to become the 15th U.S. state to legalize gay marriage after lawmakers narrowly approved a bill that is set to go in effect next year.

President Barack Obama, who once served in the Illinois legislature, hailed the vote.

“Michelle and I are overjoyed for all the committed couples in Illinois whose love will now be as legal as ours — and for their friends and family who have long wanted nothing more than to see their loved ones treated fairly and equally under the law,” he said in a statement.

“As I said in my inaugural address last January, our journey as a nation is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”

Marriage laws are governed by individual states, 29 of which have amended their constitutions to ban gay marriage.

Efforts to give same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexuals have gathered steam in recent years.

Hawaii’s state legislature is expected to approve a marriage equality law in the coming weeks.

Perhaps one of the most important victories was when the U.S. Supreme Court in June struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as between one man and one woman.

As a result, the federal government was allowed to recognize same-sex couples in all federal matters, such as sharing pension benefits.

Courts have also overturned state bans on gay marriage, most recently in New Jersey.

The 2012 elections were considered a sea change for the matter.

Voters in three states — Maine, Maryland and Washington — endorsed ballot measures aimed at legalizing gay marriage while Minnesota voters rejected an effort to enshrine a gay marriage ban in the state constitution.

The Illinois bill, which Governor Pat Quinn has said he intends to sign into law, is set to go in effect on June 1, 2014.

“Same-sex couples and their children can celebrate a new era of equality in the Land of Lincoln,” gay rights group Lambda Legal said. “With the fifth most populous state in the union embracing the freedom to marry, we have moved much closer to bringing equality to all Americans.”

AFP Photo/Scott Olson

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