Civil union vote expected soon in Illinois, calls to legislators urged

Sun. November 21, 2010 8:19 AM by Kevin Wayne

rep. greg harris, lead architect of the civil unions bill

Chicago, IL - Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan says he expects state lawmakers to approve civil unions legislation by the end of the year.

"I think we're awfully darned close," Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), the lead architect of the civil unions bill, told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Gay rights advocates also remain optimistic, saying there is a good possibility that the Illinois General Assembly will approve Senate Bill 1716, House Amendment 1, The Religious Freedom and Civil Unions Bill, with a vote that could come as early as Nov. 30.

Harris, the chief sponsor of the bill, says he still thinks his bill will pass, though lawmakers didn't vote on it during their veto session this week as some anticipated. The issue is expected to come up when the Illinois House and Senate return to Springfield after the Thanksgiving holiday break.

Civil unions are getting support from the Democratic leadership in Springfield, including Madigan (D-Chicago), Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn.

As some conservative groups, including the Catholic Conference of Illinois, lobby hard against the bill, gay rights advocates are mobilizing to ensure full legislative support for the bill. Harris, who is one of two openly gay General Assembly members, says that it's critically important for people to take up that challenge right now.

Equality Illinois (EQIL), which has worked on the legislation for over three years, continues to organize support and is encouraging the LGBT community to contact their legislators by calling the Illinois Capitol switchboard at 217-782-2000. EQIL has also established a hotline to help people identify their legislators. The hotline number is 773-477-7173.

People can also locate their legislators online.

The Civil Rights Agenda (TCRA) has been actively working in Springfield and continues to lobby legislators in support of the bill. LGBT Change and The Civil Rights Agenda Fund (TCRAF) have organized an aggressive lobbying project, contacting LGBT and allied voters across Illinois.

TCRA plans to lobby the Illinois State Capitol on Nov. 29 and 30.

LGBT Change, a grassroots organization for gay rights, has released a church bulletin insert in response to the "blatant lies and falsehoods" being distributed by the anti-gay Illinois Family Institute.

"Committed same-sex couples in Illinois, many who have kids and have been together for decades, are legal strangers under the law," said Jim Bennett, Regional Director of Lambda Legal's Midwest Regional Office in Chicago. "We urge the General Assembly to pass the civil union bill and bring much needed relief to the hardships these families face."

Civil unions are not the same as full marriage. The bill would permit couples, lesbian, gay or heterosexual, to enter into civil unions and receive the rights and responsibilities given to married couples under state law. The bill would not force religious denominations to recognize or sanctify relationships they oppose.

"Passage of civil unions is urgent," says Chicago resident Angelica Lopez. "My partner and my daughter deserve legal recognition as my immediate family, and this cannot wait any longer."

California, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington have passed laws allowing same sex civil unions. Same-sex couples can marry in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, Washington D.C. and Iowa.