In a 61-52 vote on November 30, the Illinois House approved the Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act. The Senate followed suit on December 1 with a 32-24 vote. The bill would make civil unions available to Illinoisans as of July 1 of next year.
On that date, thousands of same-sex couples in Illinois will have access to protections that were previously denied to them, such as emergency medical decision-making, hospital visitation, inheritance rights, and others. This is a historic moment for our State, and we would not have been able to get here without the extraordinary leadership of the bill’s chief sponsors, State Representative Greg Harris and State Senator David Koehler. Many of our partner organizations and community leaders devoted endless energy to helping pass this bill. Clergy all around Illinois educated their congregations and even prayed for elected officials to understand the urgency of the protection that civil unions offers. And our supporters from every corner of the State participated by contacting lawmakers, canvassing, phone banking, writing letters, and making contributions. This is your victory too.
Governor Quinn has pledged to sign it into law.
Quinn has been an outspoken supporter of the bill, which was co-sponsored by state Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, one of two openly gay state legislators. During the recent election, Quinn gambled his political career on the legislation by vowing to pass it and sign it into law. He defeated state Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, a staunch conservative, by less than 20,000 votes.
“It’s always the right time to do the right thing,”; Quinn said paraphrasing Martin Luther King Jr. during a press conference, when asked to address criticism that the state’s large debt and high jobless rate should take precedence over social issues.
“My conscience is not kicking me in the shins today,” he said. “I believe I did the right thing for the people of Illinois and all those who live in Illinois.”
The action in Illinois is an important step forward in the fight for equitable relationship recognition. PFAW welcomes this step but notes that civil unions are no substitute for marriage. Marriage is a state institution recognized in every state, across state lines, and at the federal level. Civil unions are exclusively state-based. Like domestic partnerships, they provide some state benefits, but they are not portable from state-to-state, and they receive no federal recognition. In addition, the separate status of “civil unions” stigmatizes lesbian and gay families as unworthy of perhaps the most basic foundation of our society.
We have won the battle, but we have not yet won the war.