The Illinois General Assembly passed the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Unions Act on Wednesday, establishing legal protections for same-sex couples across the state.
Civil unions for same-sex couples would be allowed in Illinois under historic legislation the state Senate swiftly sent today to Governor Pat Quinn (D), who is expected to sign the measure.
The civil unions success is the latest in a quickly evolving attitude about gay rights in Illinois. Only five years ago, lawmakers passed protections against discrimination in jobs and housing for gays and lesbians. It took decades to pass that measure. Illinois has moved toward more liberal stances on social issues since Democrats took control of state government at the start of 2003.
A Tribune poll conducted in late September showed 57 percent approved of legalizing civil unions while 32 percent disapproved.
Approval came despite vigorous opposition from the Catholic Conference of Illinois, which is headed by Cardinal Francis George, who personally made calls to legislators asking lawmakers to oppose the bill. But proponents waged a strong lobbying effort of their own.
The House approved the civil unions measure last night with one vote to spare in a move that surprised many political observers. Democrats made up the bulk of the 61 “yes” votes, with a handful of Republicans signing on as well.
“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.
“Same-sex couples and their families faced a range of barriers to things that other couples take for granted, including spousal health benefits and hospital visitation—the goal of this law is to correct those problems. While all couples deserve the right to marry, all of us in the Land of Lincoln can be proud of this important step forward,” said Bennett.
The Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Unions Act, first introduced by Representative Greg Harris in March 2007, and in the Illinois Senate by Senator David Koehler, passed 61-52 in the House on Tuesday and 32-24 in the Senate today.
The new law includes provisions for hospital visitation and healthcare decision making.
“We congratulate and thank the bill’s sponsor Representative Greg Harris, along with Representatives Feigenholtz, Osterman, Currie, Fritchey, Howard and Mell, in the house and bill sponsor Senator David Koehler, along with Senators Steans, Cullerton and retired Senator Carol Ronen in the Senate for their extraordinary leadership in making today’s historic victory a reality. It’s a great day for Illinois and other leaders in the in the legislature who have taken this step today,” added Bennett.
“I’ve been with my partner for 13 years,” Chicago Resident Angelica Lopez told Lambda Legal. “The possibility of a Civil Union gives my partner and my child a security that wasn’t there before.”