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Illinois civil-union bill appears to be stalled

State budget woes, Rod Blagojevich's arrest put measure on back burner

By James Janega | Tribune reporter - LINK

December 10, 2008

A proposal to allow civil unions in Illinois between same-sex couples has been stalled in the state legislature and seems likely to stay that way, as gay rights activists Wednesday plan nationwide "Day Without a Gay" rallies to protest California's Proposition 8 and other measures opposing gay marriage.

"This is going to be focusing on the economic aspect of what the deprivation of equal marriage rights means to our community," said Andy Thayer of the Gay Liberation Network in Chicago, which is planning a rally 11 a.m. Wednesday outside the Cook County clerk's office.

The demonstration to highlight pensions and survivors' benefits in Chicago occurs as the future of the Illinois Religious Freedom and Civil Unions Act grows uncertain.

First proposed in 2007 and running out of time before the current legislature expires, the bill would grant same-sex couples many of the rights given to opposite-sex married couples. There are two remaining legislative days on lawmakers' calendar in January—but its sponsor said it would take a back seat to the state's ongoing budget crisis.

And it seemed still less likely to be called after FBI agents arrested Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich on federal corruption charges Tuesday, casting state leadership into disarray.

"Everything has been trumped by what happened," said state Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), the measure's sponsor in the House. A similar bill was introduced in the state Senate by Sen. David Koehler (D-Pekin.)

"Our focus now is how will the state keep functioning," Harris said.

The Civil Unions Act seeks to grant same-sex and unmarried opposite-sex couples rights to hospital visitation, health care decisions, certain probate rights and a say in how a deceased partner's remains are handled. The provisions for opposite-sex partners were designed for elderly couples in which one or both partners had already lost a spouse, Harris said.

"It would basically treat same- or opposite-sex civil unions as functional marriage. The only thing it wouldn't have is the name marriage," said Illinois attorney Paul Linton, who drafted a legal analysis opposing the measure.

"For the organizations and persons who want to preserve the institution of marriage, we don't just want to preserve the name, we want to preserve the substance, and the substance is obviously eviscerated by this type of legislation," he said.

Terminology likewise was an issue for many in Illinois' gay community, Thayer said.

"There's a lot of us in the community who aren't enthusiastic about it because what we want is full equality," Thayer said.


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