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Quinn signs bill legalizing civil unions

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM



Calling it a “day of history,” Gov. Pat Quinn on Monday signed historic legislation legalizing civil unions for gay and lesbian couples, making Illinois one of about a dozen states that extend significant legal protections to same-sex couples.

About 1,000 people crowded into the Chicago Cultural Center to watch Quinn, a Democrat, sign the measure that supporters call a matter of basic fairness and opponents decry as a threat to the sanctity of traditional marriage.

“We believe in civil rights and we believe in civil unions,” Quinn said before signing the bill.

“Illinois is taking a historic step forward in embracing fairness and extending basic dignity to all couples in our state,” John Knight, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Project of the ACLU of Illinois, said in a written statement issued hours before the bill-signing ceremony.

The law, which takes effect June 1, gives gay and lesbian couples official recognition from the state and many of the rights that accompany traditional marriage, including the power to decide medical treatment for an ailing partner and the right to inherit a partner’s property.

Five states already allow civil unions or their equivalent, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Five other states and Washington, D.C., let gay couples marry outright, as do some countries, including Canada, South Africa and the Netherlands.

Illinois law will continue to limit marriage to one man and one woman, and civil unions still are not recognized by the federal government.

Opponents argue the law could increase the cost of doing business in Illinois, while Quinn has said it will make the state more hospitable to businesses and convention planners.

The legislation, sent to Quinn in December, passed 61-52 in the Illinois House and 32-24 in the Senate.

Some hope civil unions are a step toward full marriage for gay and lesbian couples, although sponsors of the civil union bill have said they don’t plan to push for legalizing same-sex marriages, which have limited support in the Legislature.

But some conservative groups said the new law is a steppingstone toward legalized same-sex marriage.

“Marriage was not created by man or governments,” Illinois Family Institute executive director David E. Smith said Monday. “It is an institution created by God. Governments merely recognize its nature and importance.”

Cardinal Francis George and other Catholic leaders also vigorously fought passage of the law. The measure doesn’t require churches to recognize civil unions or perform any kind of ceremony, but critics fear it will lead to other requirements, such as including same-sex couples in adoption programs run by religious groups or granting benefits to employees’ partners.



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