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Civil unions, now, in Illinois
Daily Herald Editorial Board
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Published: 5/8/2009 12:03 AM

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When proponents of a series of state government reform measures talked to the Daily Herald Editorial Board, they reacted strongly to political conventional wisdom that the Illinois General Assembly couldn't deal with all that was proposed by the end of the current session in May.

Why can't it? they asked. Indeed, why not?

We ask the same question when it comes to House Bill 2234 - The Illinois Religious Freedom Protection & Civil Union Act. Two years ago, a similar measure never got a vote because, depending on whom you talk to, there were too many other things to fix or there weren't enough votes for passage. Apparently, the same thing is happening this year. We say that's not good enough. It's time Illinois joins the ranks of 10 other states that either have full marriage equality or a civil union/domestic partnership law.

Just this week, Maine's governor quickly signed a bill legalizing gay marriage and New Hampshire sent a bill to its governor. Meanwhile, Iowa started marrying same-sex couples last week after a state Supreme Court ruling.

In Illinois, however, the debate should be less controversial. The proposed law seeks civil unions, not gay marriage. It's not a debate being waged in the courts to be ruled on by "activist judges" but by our duly elected legislators.

The law specifically protects religious institutions from being forced to sanction or perform civil unions if they oppose them.

State Rep. Greg Harris, chief sponsor of the bill, said Thursday he didn't have the votes yet. He plans to ask for an extension of today's deadline (the House already adjourned for the week) to consider this measure because he still believes he can get the votes. We urge House Speaker Michael Madigan to grant that request.

"I want to get it done sooner rather than later," said Harris. "A quarter of our country now accepts this as a standard legal way of life."

For legislators still on the fence, they are ignoring the fact that a majority of people in this country support civil unions. A recent CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll shows 60 percent of those asked favor civil unions. Another poll has the figure at 57 percent.

Beyond polls, this boils down to a question of fairness. Same-sex couples do not seek special rights. They should be able to make emergency medical decisions just as married couples do. There are horrific examples of partners being denied access in an emergency. They should have access to state spousal benefits, including survivor benefits. They should be able to file civil actions based on spousal status. They should have the right to control the disposition of remains when a partner dies. They should have the right to share a nursing-home room. The list goes on.

We share in Harris' frustration, when he said: "I am beginning to wonder if there is any reason to oppose this bill other than that they oppose basic fairness to gay people and lesbians."

We believe in fairness. We believe a majority of Illinois residents believe in fairness. And we demand the Legislature do the right and just thing and vote for civil unions.