Illinois House passes civil unions legislation in historic vote

Tue. November 30, 2010 6:27 PM by Kevin Wayne

Civil unions bill moves to the Illinois Senate where it is expected to pass

Springfield, IL - In a historic vote Tuesday afternoon the Illinois House of Representatives have approved legislation allowing same-sex civil unions which gives committed long-term partners important legal protections afforded to other Illinois families.

Openly gay Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), who co-sponsored SB 1716, started his opening statement at 5:17 p.m on Tuesday. "Once in every generation," he said, "legislatures across the country have a chance to advance the cause of liberty and justice for all."

The Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act (SB 1716), which passed to cheers in the chamber by a 61-52 majority vote, received support from the Democratic leadership in Springfield, including Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, who was present for the vote.

"We are finally on the bus," The Civil Rights Agenda president Jacob Meister said immediately after the vote. "But we will keep fighting until we are no longer relegated to the back."

"From the statehouse in Springfield to the Pentagon in Washington, we saw equality take an important step forward today," U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley (IL-05) said in a statement. "I applaud the Illinois House for embracing equality and passing the civil unions bill."

Before the vote, an emotional Harris related the story of former State Rep. Larry McKeon, who in 1991 was fighting with hospital administrators who would not allow him to make health care decisions for his partner Ray because they were not a legally-recognized family. McKeon was then forced to leave the hospital to retrieve power of attorney documents while Ray passed.

State Rep. Deb Mell (D-Chicago), one of two openly gay members of the chamber, stood in support saying, "From my family to yours, Greg, thanks so much."

"What would it mean to you if someone denied you the opportunity to say good-bye to your loved one," State Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago) later asked the assembly while reflecting on the story of McKeon, a close friend and colleague.

State Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Decatur) was the first to stand in opposition. Two Republicans stood up in support, State Rep. Mark Beaubien (R-Wauconda) and Rep. William Black (R-Danville).

The crucial piece of legislation now moves to the Illinois Senate for a vote that could happen as soon as Wednesday. An Illinois Senate committee Tuesday advanced its version of the civil unions bill by a 6-2 margin. The upper chamber, which is expected to pass the bill, has until Dec. 2 to vote. Gov. Quinn will then sign it into law to take effect July 2011.

Conservative groups, including the Catholic Conference of Illinois and Washington D.C.-based National Organization for Marriage (NOM), lobbied aggressively against the bill.

The bill does not recognize same-sex marriages, but will provide the same spousal rights to same-sex partners when it comes to surrogate decision-making for medical treatment, survivorship, adoptions, and accident and health insurance.

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.