The bill's opponents charged that the move will put the state on a path to legalize "gay marriage" itself, and they pointed to three states -- Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont -- which previously had a civil unions law only later to recognize "gay marriage." Other states that recognize civil unions or their cousin, domestic partnerships, are seeing similar pushes.
Illinois will become the 11th state to legalize either "gay marriage," civil unions or domestic partnerships.
Needing 60 votes in the House, the bill passed in that chamber Nov. 30 by a margin of 61-52, and then the next day in the Senate, 32-24. Both chambers are controlled by Democrats. Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn had urged the legislature to pass the bill during the lame duck session and he even appeared on the House and Senate floor during debate to show his support. He has not said when he will sign it.
Chicago mayoral candidates Rahm Emanuel and Carol Moseley Braun made phone calls to legislators urging support for the civil unions bill, while another Chicago mayoral candidate -- Sen. James Meeks -- was the only Senate Democrat to vote against it. The pastor of Chicago's Salem Baptist Church, Meeks told Chicago's Fox TV affiliate, "I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. This bill is a marriage bill."
Even after the bill passed, outgoing Chicago Mayor Richard Daly said the next step should be passage of a "gay marriage" bill.
Conservatives warn that governmental recognition of same-sex unions will negatively affect all of society, impacting everything from the tax-exempt status of religious organizations to the way private businesses are run to what is taught in elementary schools. In New Jersey, where civil unions are legal, a United Methodist Church oceanfront property lost its tax-exempt status because officials refused to allow a lesbian couple to have a civil union ceremony there.
"This legislation will open the floodgates to discrimination and civil rights lawsuits," said David E. Smith, executive director of the Illinois Family Institute, which opposed the bill. "Religious liberty and freedom of conscience will diminish for conservatives in Illinois,"
Milton Bost, senior pastor of Chatham (Ill.) Baptist Church, said he knows the civil unions bill is not the end of the political debate.
"The step to legalize civil unions, while argued as intended to provide same-sex couples rights, benefits and responsibilities similar to opposite-sex civil marriage, is nothing more than a giant step in the progression toward same-sex marriage," Bost told Baptist Press. "We are moving and have severely progressed down a slippery slope of changing and then removing foundational social and religious mores and morals in order that no one might be excluded or offended, even when blatantly wrong. Our nation is accountable to God no matter how we choose to live."
California, New Jersey, Nevada, Oregon and Washington state also recognize civil unions or domestic partnerships. Five other states recognize "gay marriage": Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. The District of Columbia also recognizes "gay marriage."
Illinois is the first state outside the Northeast or the Pacific Coast region to recognize homosexual partnerships voluntarily. Iowa's "gay marriage" law was court-ordered.
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.
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