For the past four years, a bill to legalize civil unions for gay and lesbian couples has languished in the Illinois House. Last year the Senate passed the bill, but political maneuvering prevented it from coming to a vote in the House. Not so this year :-)
Last night I tuned in to the live video stream from Springfield as the House underwent the final debate of the bill before the vote. The normally bustling general assembly chamber fell silent to listen to the impassioned speeches.
One speaker referenced Larry McKeon--a U.S. army veteran, Sheriff's lieutenant, and the first openly gay member of the Illinois legislature--who was forced in 1991 to leave his dying partner's bedside because he did not have the appropriate paperwork.
When Larry resigned from the House in 2006, his seat was subsequently filled by Greg Harris, who became the second openly gay member of our legislature. Greg has been re-elected to that seat ever since. Greg authored the civil unions bill four years ago and has been its chief sponsor in the House ever since. Last night, Greg made the first and last speeches of the debate, at one point breaking into tears as he requested his colleagues vote for justice for their gay and lesbian fellow Illinoisans.
Pat Quinn, our recently re-elected governor, himself entered the chamber to witness the vote. (Quinn has long been a supporter of the civil unions bill and stated multiple times this year that he will sign the bill should it reach its desk.)
The chamber was silent and my heart was pounding when the Speaker of the House called for the vote. Seconds later as the electronic voting was tallied, the galleries erupted in cheering. I couldn't see the electronic voting summary that the galleries could, but I knew what the cheering meant.
The Speaker announced that the bill had passed.
The bill now goes back to the Senate today for a concurrence vote. I remember speaking with Peoria Senator David Koehler about the civil unions bill during a town hall meeting two years ago with my parents in the audience. I was proud to learn that that Senator Koehler is in fact the chief sponsor of the bill in the Senate. He was responsible for its passage in that chamber last year, and this year the vote is expected to be easy--not nearly the struggle that it was in the house.
It now appears that Illinois will become the 6th state in the union to create civil unions for gay and lesbian couples. We'll know more later today when the Senate is expected to vote on the concurrence bill.
I am beside myself with excitement. I felt like I was witnessing history yesterday.
Of course I immediately phoned my husband to excitedly tell him the good news. Looks like he and I may soon be adding a third anniversary to our relationship :-)
Illinois religious marriage June 14, 2008
Iowa civil marriage July 5, 2009
Illinois civil union ? ?, 2011?
It's complicated and fun to have so many great days on our calendar to celebrate :-)