Illinois Senate passes civil unions, moves to Governor for signature

Wed. December 1, 2010 1:50 PM by News Staff

State Sen. and Rev. James Meeks was the only Democrat to vote against the bill

Springfield, IL - Landmark civil unions legislation, giving committed long-term partners important legal protections afforded to other Illinois families, has cleared another hurdle as the Illinois Senate voted Wednesday to pass the bill.

"There is electricity all around," The Civil Rights Agenda (TCRA) president Jacob Meister told moments after the vote. "Today is a victory for our democracy and the fight for the civil rights of the LGBT community."

The Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act (SB 1716) passed to cheers in the Senate by a 32-24-1 vote Wednesday. The bill passed the Illinois House by a 61-52 majority vote on Tuesday. (read full coverage of the House vote) The crucial piece of legislation now moves to Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, who made a campaign promise to sign it into law.

Fox Chicago political editor Mike Flannery reports Gov. Quinn has confirmed he will soon sign the civil unions bill into law, but the governor declined to say when or where. has learned the signing will likely be in Chicago before the end of year.

With Gov. Quinn's signature, gay and lesbian couples will be able to have their unions legally recognized by the state effective July 1, 2011.

State Sen. and Rev. James Meeks (D-Chicago), who is running for Chicago Mayor, was the only Democrat to cross party lines to vote against the bill. State Sen. Ira Silverstein (D-Chicago) is the only senator who voted present.

"I believe in the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman, and that was the impetus behind my vote," Meeks told reporters after the vote. The prominent south side minister has maintained a contentious relationship with Chicago's LGBT community.

"This is a historic day for the great state of Illinois," former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said in a released statement. "Promoting equality for gay and lesbian Illinoisans is nothing more than a question of basic fairness."

Unlike Meeks, Emanuel and several other high-profile Chicago mayoral candidates have endorsed the bill, including former U.S. Senator Carol Moseley Braun and Gery Chico.

Rhetoric during the Senate debate was more charged than Tuesday's House debate. State Sen. Tim Bivin (R-Dixon) spoke against the bill, "I have heard the argument about the perceived need to visit someone in the hospital."

"Why do we need homosexual civil unions," asked State Sen. Chris Lauzen (R-Aurora), directing his comment at Equality Illinois. "Civil unions are a pay-back to the small but powerful homosexual lobby group."

Meister noted that the Illinois Senate is more polarized than the House, with ardent opponents to LGBT rights like Meeks and State. Sen. Bill Brady (R-Bloomington), who lost the gubernatorial race to Gov. Quinn this fall.

Gay activists in the gallery burst into applause for Sen. Dan Rutherford (R-Channahon), the only Republican to speak in favor of the bill.

TCRA, Equality Illinois, Lambda Legal, LGBT Change and other gay rights advocates worked aggressively to lobby legislators in favor of the civil unions bill, which was co-sponsored by openly gay State Rep. Greg Harris (D-Illinois).

"This is a huge step for the LGBT community, not just Illinois, but the nation," said Meister. "I applaud the 93 legislators in Illinois who have chosen to stand up on the right side of history."

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

"Same-sex couples in Illinois, many together for decades, will finally have the legal protections to take care of each other and their children," said Jim Bennett, Regional Director of Lambda Legal's Midwest Regional Office in Chicago.

The vote reflects public opinion in Illinois that same-sex couples need recognition under the law. An October 2010 poll by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute of likely Illinois voters shows 67.5% approve of civil unions or marriage for same-sex couples.

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.