Gov. Pat Quinn signs civil unions bill into law

January 31, 2011 4:37:14 PM PST
Governor Pat Quinn has signed into law a measure legalizing civil unions for same-sex couples for the first time in Illinois.

The measure allows gays and lesbians to use civil unions as a way to enjoy some of the same rights as people who are married. Watch Quinn signing the bill

Illinois becomes the sixth state to recognize civil unions or domestic partnerships. Bill signings usually take place on the 15th floor of the Thompson Center with a small ceremony. That was not the case with Monday historic signing, where hundreds of people stood in line to get a seat inside the Chicago Cultural Center to witness what is being called a historic day for civil rights.

But for thousands of Illinois same sex couples a civil union is not just a ceremony. For Mercedes Santos and Theresa Volpe, the new law means legal recognition of their 20-year relationship.

They say, most importantly, it gives their 6-year-old daughter Ava and 2-year-old son Jayden some legal rights as all families.

"Our son actually has some illnesses, so going into the hospital, being able to say that we can both be in the room with him and make decisions without too many questions, just makes it easier for us," said Santos.

Hospital rights, probate rights are all rights that come with the new law that State Rep. Greg Harris has been working on for several years.

"It doesn't change federal law and that is an important thing, but everything the state can do will be granted to civil union partners," said Harris.

It is a law that passed with narrow margins in the Illinois House and Senate.

Illinois Family Institute's David Smith says there will be political consequences for the lawmakers who voted for the bill.

"What I object to is them wanting to redefine natural marriage and natural families for the rest of society," said Smith.

For Santos and Volpe, the civil union law is all about families.

"There is no room for hate," Volpe said. "You can look at my children and how can you hate? We have put our family together based on love."

The law does not go into effect until June 1.

The law requires a couple seeking a civil union to be at least 18 years old.

Civil unions are open to heterosexual couples as well.

The law stops short of marriage because it only gives couples state rights, not federal rights.