Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Illinois Senate approves civil unions, measure heads to Gov Quinn

From Chicago Tribune: SPRINGFIELD --- Civil unions for same-sex couples would be allowed in Illinois under historic legislation the state Senate swiftly sent today to Gov. Pat Quinn, who is expected to sign the measure.

The bill would give gay couples the chance to enjoy several of the same rights as married couples, ranging from legal rights on probate matters to visiting a partner in a hospital that won’t allow anyone but relatives into a patient’s room.

The Senate voted 32-24 after the House, viewed as the toughest hurdle, passed the measure on Tuesday. (The Senate roll call can be found here. The House roll call can be found here.)

Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, was one of many referencing Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement as she urged colleagues to join her in “bending the moral arc of justice.”
“This is a legacy vote,” Steans said. “It makes a statement about the justice for which we stand.”

Sen. David Koehler, D-Peoria, said he sees the issue “through the eyes of a father who has a gay child,” a daughter who “doesn’t have the same rights” as his other children.

But Sen. Chris Lauzen, R-Aurora, questioned, “Why civil unions now?” when the state reels from high unemployment, home foreclosures, a huge state debt and social services in disarray.

“We are the incompetence laughing stock of government mismanagement and misplaced priorities, and our one-party (Democratic) leadership spends our time on homosexual civil unions,” Lauzen said.

Republican Sen. Dan Rutherford, who was elected state treasurer last month, said he'll vote for civil unions.

"It's the right thing to do," said Rutherford, who will be sworn in come January as a statewide elected official.

Sen. John Jones, R-Mount Vernon, said he has a “lot of good gay friends” that he respects and supports, but civil union “is the wrong path to take,” particularly now when state leaders should be focused on fixing state finances and putting people to work.

“Rome is burning, folks, and we’re sitting back watching it burning,” Jones said.

Sen. Ira Silverstein, D-Chicago, voted present.

Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn is expected to sign it after his campaign pledge to support the measure.

Under the proposal, same-sex couples would enjoy several rights married couples currently have, such as making end-of-life decisions, handling probate matters, sharing nursing home rooms or even visiting partners in hospitals that deny visits by anyone but family.

Business groups did not weigh in on the measure. State officials say they expect some increase in health insurance costs.

The House signed off on civil unions after a debate that sometimes got emotional.

"We have a chance here, as leaders have had in previous generations, to correct injustice and to move us down the path toward liberty," said sponsoring Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, one of two openly gay lawmakers, his voice breaking with emotion. "It's a matter of fairness, it's a matter of respect, it's a matter of equality."

Opponents charged that civil unions are a "slippery slope" that will erode traditional family values.

"Are you ready for gay marriage?" asked Rep. David Reis, R-Willow Hill, who raised his voice putting that question to colleagues.

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.

Posted at 12:23:49 PM in Legislature