Illinois Senate approves civil unions bill

December 1, 2010

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Rep. Greg Harris in 2008 (AP/File)

Updated At: 2:05pm on 12/01/2010 by City Room and Associated Press

The Illinois Senate has approved civil unions, putting Illinois on the verge of granting official recognition to gay and lesbian couples.

The measure passed 32-24 Wednesday. It now goes to Gov. Pat Quinn, a strong supporter. Civil unions would give gay couples many of the same rights as marriage - for instance, the power to make medical decisions for a seriously ill partner.

Critics say this would amount to same-sex marriage under a different name. Some senators argued the Legislature shouldn't be discussing civil unions when Illinois faces a massive budget deficit that should get lawmakers' full attention.

The House approved the measure Tuesday , which would apply to same sex and heterosexual couples.

During the debate on the House floor, speakers sounded at times emotional and at times uncomfortable. State Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Greenville, called civil unions a "step down a slippery slope" leading to same-sex marriage.

"And I just think that's wrong. I think it, I do," Stephens said. "You might think I'm wrong in thinking that, but I believe that. Just call me an old-fashioned traditionalist."

Some supporters of same-sex marriage consider civil unions an unacceptable half-measure, an opinion acknowledged by Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, the legislation's sponsor. Harris argued the bill provides a "fair, moderate center."

"It does not change the definition of marriage. It provides basic legal rights to our citizens," Harris said before the vote. "It's a matter of fairness. It's a matter of respect. It's a matter of equality."

Harris' bill received 61 votes in the House, just one more than was needed for passage.

A spokeswoman for Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said in an email that the bill will be called for vote in that chamber on Wednesday.

"Cullerton hasn't made any roll call predictions," Rikeesha Phelon wrote. "However, as a vocal supporter of equal rights for same sex couples, he is hopeful and optomistic that the measure will pass the Senate."

If it does, the bill will be sent to Gov. Pat Quinn for his signature. The Chicago Democrat has said he supports civil unions.