Illinois Governor Pat Quinn on Monday signed into law a civil unions bill that opens up for same-sex couples many of the state governed rights that are afforded to their married heterosexual counterparts.
Quinn signed the bill before a crowd of hundreds at the Chicago Cultural Center. He invoked the state’s most famous politician, Abraham Lincoln, by saying, “We’re a government of the people, by the people, for the people, and it shall not perish from the earth.”
The numerous other speakers at the signing ceremony included Greg Harris, the gay state representative who sponsored the bill, who like many others implied that civil unions were a step forward but not the final goal, which is marriage equality. “There is more work to be done,” he said. “Things can get better.”
Rep. Deb Mell, the other openly gay member of the state legislature, discussed her activism and the support of her father, Chicago alderman Richard Mell, and her fiancée, Christin Baker. “I realized the act of being out and telling our story was one of the most powerful things we could do,” she told ceremony attendees. Before the signing, she told The Advocate of civil unions, “This is a huge first step forward toward full marriage equality.”
At the ceremony, Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon added, “I hope that other states will join us and I hope the federal government will join us as well. Full equality is not too much to ask for.”
The Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act (S.B. 1716) goes into effect on July 1 and allows same-sex couples to access many of the state sanctioned rights afforded married couples, including, among others, automatic hospital visitation rights, surrogate end-of-life decision making rights, as well as adoption and parental rights.
The Illinois Legislature passed the legislation during the lame duck session late last year—the Illinois House passed the bill 61-52 on Nov. 30, and the Senate passed the bill 32-24 on Dec. 1.
However, some are displeased by the signing of the bill. David E. Smith, executive director of the Illinois Family Institute, is quoted by CNN calling the bill a “derisive” and “anti-family” measure that is the work of the so-called “homosexual lobby” that he feels is trying to “impose this highly contentious and controversial policy on the people of Illinois.”
The civil unions law, however, doesn’t seem quite as controversial or as much of an imposition as Mr Smith perceives it, with an October 2010 poll by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute(.pdf) of likely Illinois voters showing that two thirds of respondents supported some form of legal recognition for same-sex couples.
When this law comes into force later this year Illinois will join California, New Jersey, Nevada, Oregon and Washington in offering same-sex couples civil partnership or domestic partnership rights. Massachusetts, Iowa, Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Washington D.C. allow for same-sex marriage.
As mentioned above, advocates hope that this civil unions law will be a first step toward marriage equality for the state.
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