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Chicagoist's "Top 10 in 2010:" #9 - Civil Unions Pass in Springfield

By Chuck Sudo in News on Dec 21, 2010 8:00PM

Photo by Melody Kramer
It was a vote that years from now will be looked upon as a watershed moment in Illinois' gay rights history: the passage of the civil unions bill by the state legislature in November.

After failing to see Springfield move the measure forward in 2009, LGBT activists lobbied state senators and representatives with a renewed purpose this year. The legislators, for the most part, seemed receptive to returning to the issue in 2010. As former Equality Illinois political director Rick Garcia told the Tribune, “The only question is, when is it coming here?”

Opponents of recognizing civil unions in Illinois, including Cardinal Francis George, the Catholic Conference of Illinois, and the Illinois Family Institute still opposed any measure granting same-sex couples the same rights under the law as married couples, still holding on to the concept of marriage being between a man and a woman.

Supporters of civil unions in Illinois quietly went about their business. In October, Gov. Quinn said that the votes were in place in Springfield to pass the civil unions bill. Shortly after the November elections, the General Assembly brought the bill to vote during the lame duck session.

Recognizing that supporters of the bill had the votes to pass the bill, Cardinal George and the Catholic Conference went on an eleventh-hour offensive to sway legislators to vote against the bill, saying it would “redefine” the definition of marriage (which it wouldn’t). Springfield Bishop Thomas John Paprocki went so far as to ignore the separation of church and state and suggest that Gov. Quinn’s support for civil unions made him a bad Catholic. Sun-Times columnist Carol Marin reminded Paprocki that Quinn answered to a higher authority in Illinois voters on the issue.

Then, the moment gays and lesbians waited to occur for years happened. First, the House passed the bill, followed a day later by the Senate. State Senator Rickey Hendon laid out in plain language the reasons he voted in favor of civil unions.

The passage of civil unions in Illinois isn’t the full leap to equality that Illinois’ LGBT community was looking for. But all worthwhile trips start with one step.