|Illinois governor signs civil unions law|
by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed his state's new civil unions bill into law on January 31.
The law will take effect on June 1.
'Here we are in 2011 on the eve of Abraham Lincoln's 202nd birthday and I think this is very special,' Quinn said at the signing ceremony. 'We believe in civil rights and we believe in civil unions.'
Quinn was joined by 20 Illinois political leaders and a standing-room-only crowd of nearly 1,000 supporters in a hall at the Chicago Cultural Center.
Among those attending the signing were Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, House Speaker Mike Madigan, Rep. Deborah Mell, Rep. Greg Harris, and Sen. Dave Koehler.
The Chicago Gay Men's chorus performed at the ceremony.
'This legislation represents a giant step toward equality,' Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said.
'If you enter a civil union, you can now visit your loved one in the hospital to make medical decisions and not be turned away. You can take time off to care for your partner and not lose your job.'
According to the State Journal-Register newspaper, supporters of the new law worried that they might not be able to accommodate everyone who wanted to attend the signing ceremony.
'Our biggest problem right now is public response of people who want to be there to witness the ceremony. They feel this is part of history,' Rep. Greg Harris told reporters.
The new law, titled the 'Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act,' allows both same-sex and opposite-sex couples to enter into civil unions, giving 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 partner's remains and the right to make decisions about a partner's medical care.
According to Illinois LGBT activists, the new law provides more than 650 spousal benefits and protections.
The law also allows religious institutions to define marriage as they choose. Illinois law will continue to define marriage as a one man-one woman relationship.
Illinois joins 17 states, plus the District of Columbia, in recognizing some form of protection for committed same-sex couples - from limited partnership rights through civil unions to full marriage equality.
Human rights activists greeted the new law with enthusiasm.
'Today marks a tremendous step towards equality for all families in Illinois,' said HRC President Joe Solmonese. 'HRC commends Governor Quinn for his commitment to ensuring civil unions became law. Congratulations to Rep. Greg Harris, lead sponsor of the bill, who fought for years to ensure civil unions would become a reality, and thank you to Equality Illinois and the ACLU of Illinois for their tireless efforts on behalf of the LGBT community.'
'This new law reflects the triumph of hope and fairness over distortion and division,' said Jill Metz, president of the ACLU of Illinois Board of Directors.
'Today marks yet another victory in the clear trend line of achieving fairness for families across the country,' said James Esseks, director of the ACLU Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project.
Lambda Legal announced a new program to help Illinois families protected by the new law to obtain the full range of benefits they are entitled to.
'We have had a surge of calls to our Legal Help Desk since November when the law passed the legislature,' said Camilla Taylor, senior staff attorney at the Midwest Regional Office of Lambda Legal in Chicago.
'By launching Civil Union Tracker with our partners at Equality Illinois, our goal is to provide a much-needed service to same-sex and different-sex couples in civil unions, and to their children. Many will have questions about what the law means. We also know from experience in other states with civil unions that many families will encounter difficulties in getting respect for their status as legally recognized families after the law goes into effect. Our goal is to help these families navigate Illinois' new legal landscape with as few challenges as possible.'