By Mary Massingale Illinois Statehouse News
SPRINGFIELD – Civil unions for same-sex partners in Illinois may be on the agenda for the November legislative veto session.
A leading gay-rights activist said Senate Bill 1716 has garnered enough votes among lawmakers to pass both Democratic-controlled chambers.
“Whenever the legislature is back in session, we can do it,” said Rick Garcia of Equality Illinois, an advocacy group for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals.
But the sponsor of the legislation said Garcia may be too optimistic.
“I would like to do this as soon as possible,” said Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago. “But every member of the General Assembly has two priorities on their mind right now: jobs and the economy, and the terrible state the budget is in.”
Harris is one of two openly homosexual members of the legislature.
The prospect of a vote comes on the heels of a federal ruling earlier this month declaring California’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, and calling for ceremonies to resume last week. But a panel of appellate judges kept the ban in place pending a December hearing.
Iowa, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and the District of Columbia currently allow same-sex marriages, while New Jersey allows civil unions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Oregon, Washington, Maine, Hawaii, Nevada, Wisconsin, California and the District of Columbia allow some form of domestic partnership that gives some spousal rights.
Harris’ proposal would give same-sex partners the same rights spouses receive under Illinois law. Garcia said the measure would remedy vague situations such as visits to hospitalized partners or decisions regarding a deceased partner’s remains.
“We’re nowhere near equal marriage rights, but a civil union bill would pass,” Garcia said. “This issue is not a big deal.”
Not so fast, say some conservative activists.
“It’s counterfeit marriage by another name,” said David Smith, executive director of the Illinois Family Institute. “It’s a stepping stone to full same-sex marriage.”
Smith said the organization respects all individuals, but is concerned about the integrity of marriage as an institution. The group in 2006 launched a petition drive for a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman, but fell short of the number of valid signatures required to get the question on the ballot.
If SB 1716 should come up for consideration, it would mark the first major attempt at expanding gay rights in Illinois since lawmakers banned certain types of discrimination based on sexual orientation in 2005.
The measure started in the Senate as a different bill, but was amended in the House to its current form. A spokesman for Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, said the decision to consider the bill rests with Harris.
“It would be up to the sponsor to call the bill,” said Steve Brown.
Harris said he has no set schedule in mind.
“Do I look for an opportunity to advance the issue — yes,” he said. “But I don’t put a timeline on the issue.”
However, a veto session after the November general election would be the best shot for the proposal, according to a professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Springfield.
Kent Redfield said the election will have determined if the House and Senate remain in Democratic control for the new General Assembly in January, as well as who will be occupying the governor’s office.
Endorsed by Equality Illinois, Gov. Pat Quinn would most likely sign the bill into law if passed during the veto session – a key consideration if he loses the election to his conservative Republican opponent state Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington, Redfield said.
Election results will be crucial, but not for traditional reasons, he said. If victorious during an election year marred by the federal corruption trial of former Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Democrats may vote for the bill, confident in their political standing. But defeated Democratic lawmakers may not support the measure, thinking ahead to a possible comeback in two years.
And Republicans who lost in the primary may now vote their conscience, he said.
“It’s hard to predict what the impact of the primary and general elections will be,” Redfield said.
Originally reported by Illinois Statehouse News. Read the original article here.