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Civil Unions Bill Goes To Governor’s Desk

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Civil Unions

Ira Dym and Ryan Endress wear commitment rings, and plan to get a civil union license once Gov. Pat Quinn signs a pending bill into law. (Credit: CBS)

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CHICAGO (CBS) - A measure approving civil unions for same-sex couples is now on Gov. Pat Quinn’s desk, and he’s promising to sign it.

As CBS 2’s Mike Puccinelli reports, this means civil unions are essentially a done deal in Illinois. Part of Quinn’s platform when he ran for governor was that he would sign the bill.

RELATED STORY: The Gay Rights Movement In Illinois: A History

Mayor Daley on Thursday applauded the vote, saying providing rights to gay couples was overdue.

LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s Craig Dellimore Reports

After passing the state House of Representatives on Tuesday, the civil unions bill passed the state Senate with a vote of 32-24 Wednesday afternoon following 90 minutes of impassioned debate.

If Quinn signs the bill, it could go into effect as soon as July 1 of next year. Quinn has not said where or when he will sign the bill, but ChicagoPride.com reports he might do so in Chicago before the end of this year.

The measure will give same-sex couples all 648 legal benefits of marriage. These include the right to visit a sick partner in the hospital and make decisions about their medical care, and property inheritance rights. But the bill does not recognize same-sex marriage.

On Wednesday, Ryan Endress read his Twitter history. One of the entries said “Civil Unions pass in Illinois!”

He got the message from Equality Illinois this afternoon. One day ago, he and his partner, Ira Dym, who have commitment rings, but who have no legal bond, could only hope.

CBS 2’s Kristyn Hartman asked if they thought it would pass so quickly. They said ‘no,’ especially because there was such debate.

In an interview with the Windy City Times, Equality Illinois public policy director Rick Garcia said he was both excited and exhausted. He also remarked on how the tone has changed since his organization struggled in favor of a statewide anti-discrimination bill, which was approved in 2005.

In the 1980s and ’90s when the anti-discrimination bill was under discussion, the debate revolved around moral arguments, Garcia told the Windy City Times. But now, Garcia told the newspaper, “legislator after legislator talks about ‘my gay daughter, my gay brother.’”

But issues of moral and religious beliefs still came up during the debate.

“The reason marriage exists is that sex between a man and a woman produces children,” state Sen. Chris Lauzen (R-Aurora) said on the Senate floor.

Peter Breen, from Thomas More Society Pro-Life Law Center said, “The problem is that this bill not only created civil unions, but then elevated those to the same level as marriage between one man and one woman.”

But Endress countered, “That is your religious belief, and we live in a country where we have the right to believe that, but you don’t have the right to force that belief upon other people.”

Some supporters said many of the vocal opponents of the measure in the statehouse have no right to be throwing stones at loving couples that want to expand their civil rights.

“When I sit here and I hear adulterers, and womanizers, and folks on their wives, and down-low brothers say they’re going to vote against this bill, it turns my stomach!” said state Sen. Rickey Hendon (D-Chicago.) “That’s hypocrisy.”

The vote may also have implications in the mayoral race next year.

State Sen. James Meeks (D-Chicago), a candidate for mayor of Chicago, was among those to vote against the proposal, although he did not speak on the Senate floor during the debate.

Meeks, pastor of the 20,000-member Salem Baptist Church, 752 E. 114th St., said, “A bill this big and this much magnitude probably should have been placed on a ballot for a referendum.”

But Meeks defended his no vote, adding, “I believe in the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman and that was the impetus behind my vote.”

Asked if his vote would hurt his chances in the race for mayor, Meeks said he didn’t know, but said “I don’t think that a person should vote on a bill of this magnitude based on the next office. I think they should base their vote on what they believe.”

Rival mayoral candidate Rahm Emanuel issued a statement Wednesday afternoon, praising Koehler and Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) — the chief sponsor of the legislation and an openly gay member of the House — for their work on the bill.

“This is a historic day for the great state of Illinois. Promoting equality for gay and lesbian Illinoisans is nothing more than a question of basic fairness,” Emanuel said. “Illinois served as an example for states across the nation today.”

After final approval, a license for a civil union could cost as little as $30.

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