Governor Pat Quinn was joined today by lawmakers, advocates and hundreds of Illinois residents as he signed a historic new law that makes Illinois one of just six states nationwide to legalize civil unions. Senate Bill 1716 ensures that for the first time in state history, couples united under a civil union -- including same-sex couples -- will have access to the full state legal rights and responsibilities enjoyed by couples that are married.
"Today is an important day in the history of our state because today we are showing the world that the people of Illinois believe in equality for all," said Governor Quinn. "We look forward to individuals and businesses from across the country choosing to move to Illinois where we believe that everyone is entitled to the same rights. I would like to thank Representative Harris and Senator Koehler for their hard work, and I am proud to sign this into law."
Senate Bill 1716, sponsored by Sen. David Koehler (D-Peoria) and Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), creates the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act. Under the new law, both heterosexual and same-sex couples are allowed to enter into a civil union. By entering into a civil union, couples are afforded the same state rights and protections already entitled to married couples.
"Not often in a legislator's career do you get a chance to make such a significant impact on our state's history, which this bill does by ensuring equality for tens of thousands of Illinois families," said Rep. Harris. "I am very grateful to Governor Quinn for his steadfast support and leadership."
In addition to Illinois, five other states and the District of Columbia have civil unions or similar laws on the books. Those states include California, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington.
"This bill is important for thousands of Illinoisans and for our state as a whole, and I am honored to have been part of this groundbreaking legislation," said Sen. Koehler.
Prior to Governor Quinn's signature on SB 1716, same-sex couples in Illinois had been denied many rights enjoyed by couples who are married. New rights for couples joined in civil union include: automatic hospital visitation rights and the ability to make emergency medical decisions for partners; ability to share a room in a nursing home; adoption and parental rights; pension benefits; inheritance rights; and the right to dispose of a partner's remains.
The Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act goes into effect June 1.