Illinois bill would allow civil unions of same-sex couples
Opponents see little difference between civil unions and same-sex marriage
Published Thursday, 29-Mar-2007 in issue 1005
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) – Same-sex Illinois couples would be allowed to enter civil unions with the same legal rights as marriage under legislation approved Wednesday by an Illinois House committee.
If the measure becomes law, Illinois would become only the fifth state to offer civil unions, which would give couples rights to estate benefits, child custody or adoption, property ownership and others now enjoyed by married couples. Massachusetts is the only state that allows same-sex marriage.
“Illinois is ready now for civil unions,” the sponsor, Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, said at a Statehouse news conference. “The outpouring of public support shows it’s ready for civil unions, and I hope one day it will come around to the concept of same-sex marriage.”
After discussions with House colleagues, Harris abandoned his efforts to legalize same-sex marriage, saying the idea faced too much resistance. Illinois just last year banned discrimination based on sexual orientation after a decade of debate.
Civil unions would be very similar to marriages and would be available to heterosexual couples, Harris said. But civil unions would be authorized by their own law, separate from the one governing marriage, and would not require religious sanction.
Some opponents, however, see little difference between civil unions and same-sex marriage.
“He said the religious groups would not have to consecrate the marriage, but it seems as though the real spirit of the bill is a marriage act,” said Rep. Patti Bellock of Hinsdale, the top-ranking Republican on the Human Services Committee, which OK’d the measure 5-4.
It now moves to the House floor, where Harris said he hopes to call it for a vote this spring.
Civil unions are allowed in Connecticut, Vermont and, as of February, New Jersey. Domestic partnerships that offer benefits similar to civil unions are obtainable in California.
In addition to the Human Rights Act that took effect in January 2006, Illinois has extended insurance coverage to the same-sex partners of members of the largest state-employees’ union in a contract negotiated in 2004.
Chicago and Cook County in October 2003 started a domestic partner registry, but it is largely symbolic, carrying no legal or financial protections for gay and lesbian couples.
Lee Korty, a Springfield resident who this fall will celebrate the 25th anniversary of his same-sex relationship, said the issue is one of fairness. When his partner lost his job several years ago, Korty could not extend his generous insurance policy to him, so the couple had to buy expensive private insurance.
While they have made health care power-of-attorney and long-term financial arrangements, Korty said married couples do not have to maneuver the same “legal hoops” he and his partner did.
“I find it hard to stand up here and have people tell me how giving my partner the same benefits that you would your wife or your husband is somehow detracting from your marriage,” Korty said.
But Rep. Paul Froehlich, a Schaumburg Republican, said despite its name, a civil union changes the definition of marriage. “If it can be defined to mean anything, then it may mean nothing,” he said.
Froehlich said the legislation allows civil unions between two consenting adults, but could be changed in the future to allow for three or more.
Froehlich and others are sympathetic, however, to some problems same-sex couples face, particularly when hospitals allow only legal family members to visit patients. But other legislation could address those difficulties, they said.
Lambda Legal, an advocacy group for gays and lesbians, said Wednesday’s vote was a step toward its goal of legalized same-sex marriage.
“Illinois views same-sex couples, some together for decades, as strangers under the law,” said Jim Bennett, Lambda’s Midwest director.