Supporters see new hope for Illinois civil unions

November 10, 2010

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Backers of a bill to allow same-sex civil unions in Illinois say they're confident the issue could come up when lawmakers return to Springfield Tuesday for their fall veto session.

The bill falls short of granting gay couples they same rights as married couples when it comes to issues like federal taxes, acknowledged Chicago Democratic state Rep. Greg Harris, its chief sponsor in the House.  But couples in civil unions would be on even legal ground with married couples on hospital visitation rights, estate issues and state taxes.

The defeat of GOP state Sen. Bill Brady in the governor's race last week is an indication that Illinois voters aremoderate on social issues, Harris said. And now that Nov. 2 has come and gone, he says moderate Republicans and lame ducks should feel more comfortable supporting a bill that more conservative legislators traditionally oppose.

"People in Illinois are really looking for us to fix the budget problems," Harris said, speaking of the state's multi-billion dollar deficit. "But they also think there's some other ... issues that have been left open for too long that are matters of basic fairness."

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn on Wendesday reiterated his support for the measure, saying "it's time" for the bill to come to a vote.

But in recent years, opposition to civil unions in Illinois has come from lawmakers, not the governor.  The plan faced tough obstacles last spring in the Illinois House, and it never came up for a vote.

Democratic leaders in both chambers - who still enjoy legislative majorites - seem to be open to the plan coming up for a vote next week.

Harris said the issue may finally come to a head thanks to suburban Republicans like Rep. Mark Beaubien, of Barrington, who supports civil unions.

"This doesn't deal with marriage at all," Beaubien said. "It deals with civil unions. And it really enabled a lot of people that would not have supported the marriage bill to support the civil unions bill."

And he added he knows a few fellow Republicans who would likely vote along with him.

Meanwhile, some critics say the bill would pave the way to gay marriage in all but name.