In front of an expected crowd of 1,000 people, Gov. Pat Quinn will sign the historic civil unions legislation in Chicago today, making Illinois the sixth state to recognize civil unions or domestic partnerships. And while same-sex couples (and straight couples, too, for that matter) will not be able to enter a civil union until June 1, 2011, the swipe of Quinn's pen undoubtedly marks a turning point for civil rights in Illinois.
With the legislation, same-sex couples will be able to obtain a certificate of their civil union at their county clerk's office. The license will entitle those partners to the same legal treatment given to heterosexual spouses under Illinois law. Equality Illinois has identified roughly 650 state rights, benefits, and protections that gay families can't access currently. They include "tax relief, emergency medical decision-making power, access to domestic relations laws and procedure, state spousal benefits including workers' compensation, inheritance rights and benefits, spousal testimonial privilege, and the right to control disposition of remains."
Today's signing is not the end of the fight. State Rep. Deb Mell (D-Chicago), one of two openly gay members of the General Assembly, reiterated in an interview Friday that she and her partner can still not marry in their home state, and will travel to Iowa for that right. The civil unions bill is a proud moment in Illinois, but it is also a reminder that more is needed before equality is achieved.