This week, Illinois changed the course of history.
By a vote of 32-24, the Illinois Senate approved the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act, which will extend important legal protections to gay, lesbian and straight couples across the state. Now, the bill moves on to the desk of Gov. Pat Quinn, who has promised to sign it.
The legislation will secure important rights and benefits to couples that seek civil unions: the ability to share pension benefits and health insurance, the right to dispose of a loved one's remains with dignity, the right to visit in the hospital and make emergency medical decisions for a loved one. The bill will end the many indignities, and out-right cruelties faced by LGBT couples when dealing with life's most difficult moments: serious illness, financial hardship and death.
This battle began years ago. It was in February of 2007 that then-newly elected state Rep. Greg Harris first introduced civil union legislation. Despite Illinois' "blue state" reputation, this bill was not a slam-dunk. Indeed, it was only in 2005 that the Illinois Human Rights Act was amended to include protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Advocates, legislators and Illinoisans of all stripes have worked tirelessly for four years to move civil union legislation forward, inch by inch.
The ACLU of Illinois was proud to work with advocates across the state to secure this critical victory:
In the Village of Woodstock, Patrick told the story of his partner's death and the morgue's refusal to release the body for burial. In the City of Lockport, Sue and Lori met with their representative, talked to the press and sent letters seeking legal recognition for their union and commitment. In the City of Pekin, a constituent arrived at her representative's office, oxygen tank in tow, to talk about the fear that her partner would not be allowed to visit her in the hospital. In downstate Champaign-Urbana, the ACLU chapter generated hundreds of calls, emails and letters in support of the bill. Just as this was a statewide effort, now the victory too belongs to every Illinoisan.
Passage of civil union legislation represents an important — and incredible — step on the road towards full equality for LGBT individuals in Illinois. But of course, it is only a step. As we look into the future, the road ahead towards marriage equality for all is rife with resistance and obstacles. It will be no easier, and probably more challenging, than the pavement we have just traveled over. But we will keep moving tirelessly, relentlessly forward — and we hope you will join us on the journey.