From WILL - News Headlines -

Ill. Gov. Quinn Signs Historic Civil Unions Legislation

Civil unions for gay and lesbian couples are now the law of the land in Illinois.

About a thousand people crowded into the Chicago Cultural Center on Monday afternoon to watch Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn sign the historic law. The state's General Assembly approved the legislation 61-52 in the House and 32-24 in the Senate.

"We believe in civil rights and we believe in civil unions," Quinn said before signing the bill.

"Illinois is taking an historic step forward in embracing fairness and extending basic dignity to all couples in our state," John Knight, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Project of the ACLU of Illinois, said in a written statement issued hours before the bill-signing.

The law, which takes effect June 1, gives gay and lesbian couples official recognition from the state and many of the rights that accompany traditional marriage, including the power to decide medical treatment for an ailing partner and the right to inherit a partner's property.

Five states already allow civil unions or their equivalent, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Five other states and Washington, D.C., let gay couples marry outright, as do some countries, including Canada, South Africa and the Netherlands.

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

Opponents argue the law could increase the cost of doing business in Illinois, while Quinn has said it will make the state more hospitable to businesses and convention planners.

The legislation, sent to Quinn in December, passed 61-52 in the Illinois House and 32-24 in the Senate.

Some hope civil unions are a step toward full marriage for gay and lesbian couples, although sponsors of the civil union bill have said they don't plan to push for legalizing same-sex marriages, which have limited support in the Legislature.

Curt McKay served from 1998-2008 as the first full-time director of the University of Illinois' Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Resource Center. McKay said the legislation is a huge victory, but he added that there is still more that can be done to provide equal opportunities for LGBT groups.

"A number of the opponents of civil unions in Illinois use as their reason for being opposed that the next thing we'll ask for is same sex marriage," McKay said. "I think providing for LGBT people full inclusion under the laws of the state of Illinois in terms of being equal in every way a straight person is accepted is the final goal."

Some conservative groups said the new law is a stepping stone toward legalized same-sex marriage.

"Marriage was not created by man or governments," David E. Smith, executive director of the Illinois Family Institute, said Monday. "It is an institution created by God. Governments merely recognize its nature and importance

Cardinal Francis George and other Catholic leaders also vigorously fought passage of the law. The measure doesn't require churches to recognize civil unions or perform any kind of ceremony, but critics fear it will lead to other requirements, such as including same-sex couples in adoption programs run by religious groups or granting benefits to employees' partners.

(With additional reporting from the Associated Press)