Illinois Senate Approves Civil Unions

The Illinois State Senate has approved legislation that extends civil union rights to gay and lesbian couples by a 32 to 24 vote, with several Republicans voting for the bill, including Sen. David Koehler (R-Peoria), the bill's chief Senate sponsor.

Likewise, several Democratic senators voted against the bill, including State Sen. James Meeks (D-Chicago) who is a mayoral candidate and the pastor of Salem Baptist Church and a past critic of gay rights.
The legislation, SB1716, the "Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act," had previously passed the Illinois House, and will now go to Gov. Quinn for his signature.

The Governor has pledged to sign the bill, and in fact in a show of his support for the bill he came onto the floor of the Senate during debate.

Civil unions would provide legal recognition of gay couples and give them some of the same benefits automatically available to married couples, including the right to visit a sick partner in the hospital, disposition of a deceased loved one's remains and the right to make decisions about a loved one's medical care.

"Today, Illinois took an important step forward in providing a measure of protections to same-sex couples and their families - protections of particular importance in these tough economic times,” said Evan Wolfson, Executive Director of Freedom to Marry. “With this step in the right direction, Illinois rejected arguments against fair treatment for gay people and their loved ones and acknowledged that gay couples and families exist and have the same hopes and needs as other families.

"While a welcome step, civil union is no substitute for the full measure of respect, clarity, security, responsibilities, and protection of marriage itself.  States that have created civil union as a means of both giving and withholding - providing legal protections while withholding the freedom to marry and all its meaning - have found that civil union falls far short of marriage with all its tangible and intangible significance in our lives.  Many of those states - Connecticut, New Hampshire, and even Vermont, which first created civil union - have since pushed past civil union to marriage, recognizing the inadequacy and unfairness of a separate and unequal status.

"In five states and the District of Columbia, as well as 10 countries, same-sex couples have the freedom to marry, and the sky has not fallen.  Having now laid a good foundation with civil union, Illinois should move swiftly to finish the job, ending exclusion from marriage for committed couples seeking the same responsibilities, same respect, and same rules."

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