Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Illinois Gov. Signs Civil Unions Bill into Law

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed legislation on Monday making civil unions legal in the Land of Lincoln, calling the event "a day of history". The legislation, which takes effect on June 1, bestows most of the rights and responsibilities of marriage to same-sex and opposite-sex couples, including property and inheritance rights.

At the signing ceremony, held at the Chicago Cultural Center, Gov. Quinn told the crowd of about 1,000 people, "We believe in civil rights and we believe in civil unions."

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

Chicago residents Amanda Barlow, 43, and Mimi Reynolds, 47, said they will hold a civil union ceremony this summer. The couple, who have 4- and 5-year-old boys and have been together 14 years, had considered traveling to other states that allowed same-sex civil unions or marriage, "but I kept telling her 'No, it's going to happen here in Illinois,'" Barlow said.

"For us to witness and see it happen and to realize that we're both living our dreams . . . it just solidifies who we are as a family," Barlow said after the bill-signing. "So I'm speechless because I feel like I'm living in a dream come true."

They also appreciate the law's protections: When Barlow was diagnosed two years ago with breast cancer, Reynolds had to produce documents from a lawyer to prove to hospital officials that she had the right to visit Barlow and help make decisions.
I have mixed feelings about this news. While it is an enormous step forward for LGBT rights, especially in the conservative midwest, it is still a separate ~ and not quite equal ~ second class status. By signing this bill into law, the governor makes it official that gay and lesbian couples are not deserving of the same legal standing as heterosexual couples.

What Amanda and Mimi's story highlights is not only the lack of rights afforded to same-sex couples, but that their upcoming change in legal status will only be recognized by a handful of states. Should they move to one of the 39 less gay-friendly states, like Virginia, their Civil Union would be meaningless.

Illinois joins five other states that allow civil unions or domestic partnerships to same sex couples. Five other states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage. A same-sex marriage bill was introduced in the Maryland legislature last week. The legislation has more support than ever among state legislators and Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley has said he will sign it into law, if it gets to his desk. Maryland and New York both recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions.

I look forward to the day in the not too distant future when DOMA will be struck down and the loving relationships of all American couples will be legally entitled to the same respect and legal status.
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