From NYT: CHICAGO — Illinois lawmakers on Wednesday approved legislation allowing civil unions in this state, and the governor has indicated he will sign it, making Illinois one of only a handful of states to grant to same-sex couples a broad array of legal rights and responsibilities similar to those of marriage.
Advocates of the legislation, who had pressed the matter for years, pointed to the outcome as a sign that acceptance of gay men and lesbians is growing and not only on the coasts.
“Sober, clear-minded, cautious Midwesterners are taking this action,” said Rick Garcia of Equality Illinois, a gay-rights group.
Opponents complained about the timing of the vote (during a fall session before newly elected legislators arrive) and said they feared civil union legislation might ultimately harm the institution of marriage. “This will be the entry to a slippery slope,” Ron Stephens, a Republican state representative, said. “The next thing we’ll see will be consideration of gay marriage.”
Five states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage, while New Jersey grants civil unions similar to the measure expected to take effect here in July. Four other states grant domestic partnerships with broad legal rights — bonds that some experts said carry many of the rights provided under Illinois’s new legislation if not the precise ceremonial recognition suggested by civil union.
The Illinois provision will provide couples many legal protections now granted to married couples, including emergency medical decision-making powers and inheritance rights. The legislation allows heterosexual couples to seek civil unions, too.
The result in Illinois comes at a shifting moment in the national battle over gay rights. With huge Republican gains in state capitols following the election last month, opponents of same-sex marriage predict a powerful push-back against recent efforts to legalize such unions. Maggie Gallagher, chairman of the National Organization for Marriage, which opposes same-sex marriage, said she had renewed hope for constitutional amendments defining marriage as between a man and a woman in places like Minnesota, Indiana and Pennsylvania.
In Illinois, where Democrats dominate both state legislative chambers (and will next year, even after new lawmakers are seated) the votes were split: 32 to 24 in the State Senate on Wednesday, and 61 to 52 in the House a day earlier.
Supporters of gay rights widely praised Illinois’s decision, but many said the eventual goal remained legalizing same-sex marriage, not a separate civil union system.