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December 03, 2010

In one day, Illinois passes a civil union bill

Springfield, Ill.--In less than 24 hours, both houses of the Illinois legislature approved a civil union bill, sending it to Gov. Pat Quinn, who has pledged his signature.

The Illinois House passed the bill by a vote of 61-52 on Tuesday night, November 30. The next afternoon, it passed the Senate by a vote of 32-24, with one abstention.

In a rare move, Quinn went to the House floor for the debate. A governor’s presence indicates both that he or she strongly supports the legislation being considered, and that it is likely to pass, since being present at a personal defeat would be an embarrassment.

He was also present on the Senate floor for the vote, arriving at 1:30 pm, about 15 minutes before the vote was taken.

The legislation is open to both same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples who, for whatever reason, might not want to get married. Couples who enter into a civil union will get visitation privileges in hospitals, will be allowed to make medical decisions and share nursing home rooms.

Quinn has promised to sign the measure, which will take effect in July. At press time, he had not indicated when he will do so.

The bill was introduced by Rep. Greg Harris, who is openly gay.

“We have a chance here, as leaders have had in previous generations, to correct injustice and to move us down the path toward liberty,” Harris said on November 30, according to the Chicago Tribune. “It’s a matter of fairness, it’s a matter of respect, it’s a matter of equality.”

State Rep. Rosemary Mulligan, a Republican, got in her car and drove from Des Plaines to Springfield when she heard her vote might be needed to pass the legislation. She had been too ill to attend earlier votes.

“The fact of the matter is there are gay people, and you’re not going to abolish the fact that they are gay by not letting them have these rights,” she said.

California, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington have statewide domestic partnership or civil union laws, granting most or all of the state benefits of marriage to same-sex couples, while Colorado, Hawaii, Maine and Wisconsin offer some spousal protections.

Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont all have full same-sex marriage, along with the District of Columbia. 

Maryland and New York recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions.

“Same-sex couples in Illinois today moved closer toward realizing equal treatment under the law,” said Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. “While not a substitute for full legal marriage, this measure provides important protections, rights and responsibilities to same-sex couples, and will help ensure they’re able to take of each other and their families.”

“This is both fair and human,” Carey concluded.

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