Thursday, December 02, 2010
Today the Illinois State Senate passed a bill to create civil unions by a vote of 32-24. Yesterday, the Illinois House of Representatives approved the measure 61-52. The bill now goes to Governor Pat Quinn, who has pledged to sign it into law. He visited the floor of both Houses to show his support for the measure.
I wrote about this a week ago, and said it was “a separate-but-fully-equal marriage-like legal arrangement”. Put another way, the new civil unions are in the “everything but the word ‘marriage’” category of civil unions, much like New Zealand and other places.
However, this is not marriage, which is reserved for opposite-sex couples alone (civil unions will be open to both same-sex and opposite-sex couples alike). So, while this is an important step toward gay and lesbian equality in Illinois, it’s only a step. When same-sex couples are allowed to choose between civil unions and marriage, just as opposite-sex couples will now be able to do, then Illinois will achieve equality in relationship law, but not until then.
In the meantime, this is a very important step for same-sex couples in Illinois who will finally have legal recognition of their relationships without having to spend thousands of dollars on lawyers to draft piles of documents that may not be recognised, anyway (as, for example, by hospitals).
What I found interesting about this debate is how the far right exposed the inherent anti-gay hatred they possess. They long said they were opposed only to same-sex marriage—remember when the people backing California’s Prop 8 used to claim that? Yeah, it’s getting hard to remember those halcyon days.
The rightwing is now quite open in declaring that there should be no legal recognition of same-sex relationships whatsoever. Their stated reasons/excuses vary, but the reality of their hatred for gay people is obvious.
Which is why I like the video above so much. Illinois State Senator Ricky Herndon tells it like is, which is in itself unusual for a politician, but even more so because he calls out the folks who opposed the measure—including some in his own party.
State Senator James Meeks, a Chicago Democrat who is now running for Mayor, in addition to being a preacher, voted against the bill—the only African American Senator to do so. His reasons were the same as for religious nutcase and rightwing extremist Bill Brady, the Republican who very nearly was inflicted on Illinois as its Governor. Very strange bedfellows.
On the other hand, Republican State Senator Dan Rutherford, who was elected state treasurer last month, voted for civil unions. He was the only Republican in the Senate to do so. A handful of Republicans in the House supported the measure.
Oponents were joined by the usual assortment of Republican-aligned far right and religious groups, including out of state groups like the National Organization for (sic) Marriage. The Catholic Conference of Illinois, which is headed by Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George, also fought the bill. George, personally interfering in the legislative process, made calls to legislators asking them to oppose the bill.
Illinois has accomplished a lot since Democrats took control of the state government in 2003. In 2005, legislators passed a law protecting gay and lesbian people from discrimination in jobs and housing—after literally decades of work (of which I was once part).
As an aside, the personal implication of this is interesting. If I were to move back to Illinois with Nigel, our civil union would likely be recognised by the state. However, as I mentioned last week, the new law changes nothing for bi-national same-sex couples, and I still couldn’t sponsor Nigel as my spouse (or civil union partner, if you prefer). But that’s something that not even marriage equality can fix.
Well done, Illinois! Today I’m proud to be one of your native sons.