Civil Unions legislation passed, LGBT center weighs in on decision

By Jack Baker

Some NIU students are thrilled that the Illinois state legislature has passed a bill that will legalized civil unions for same sex couples.

“I think it’s a great move for Illinois,” said Bryan Roush, a graduate assistant for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Resource Center. “It’s been a long time coming, and I think it’s a really welcome move for all gay and lesbian couples in the state of Illinois.”

Ryan Mishler, a junior community leadership and civic engagement major, said he sees this bill as a great victory because he has previously advocated for it.

“In the past, I’ve written to my state senator and state House rep trying to advocate for the passing of this bill,” Mishler said. “So when it finally happened, I was overwhelmed with joy.”

The bill, which is awaiting the governor’s signature before it becomes a law, will allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions, which will provide them with some of the same legal protections as married heterosexual couples.

When a couple enters into a civil union, each will be able to visit their partner in the hospital, make medical decisions on their partner’s behalf and it will protect them from having to testify against each other in court.

These rights have always been available to married heterosexual couples in Illinois, but have been unavailable or difficult for same-sex couples to obtain.

Molly Holmes, the director of the LGBT Resource Center, said that this bill is encouraging because it means that the state is recognizing basic civil rights for LGBT people.

She said that as of late, she has seen an increase in the support for the rights of LGBT people in the state of Illinois.

“I think there’s been a lot more visibility and acceptance within Illinois and within the media as well,” Holmes said. “Whenever there’s visibility it’s a positive thing for LGBT people.”

The vote for the bill was not unanimous.

State Rep. Bob Pritchard, (R-Sycamore) was one of the 52 that voted against the bill. He said that it was a complex issue that divided the community, but he felt like the district was against it.

The religious organizations that lobbied against the bill were afraid that they would have to change the way they operated and provide benefits to people whose lifestyles they disagree with, Pritchard said.

“I’m not in favor of giving one group rights while taking away rights from another group,” Pritchard said.

Couples in a civil union will have many of the same rights as couples in a marriage; however, they will not have all of the same rights.

Civil unions are not recognized by the federal government–the Defense of Marriage Act passed in 1996 prevents same-couples from receiving federal benefits and marriage rights.

Civil unions are not recognized by all states, either, meaning they are not always valid when couples cross state lines.

Roush said he hopes the passing of the civil union bill means that Illinois is moving closer to legalizing marriage for same-sex couples.

“I think that would definitely be the next step,” Roush said. “I think full equality is the goal for all couples in the state of Illinois.”