SPRINGFIELD – Senators passed and sent to Gov. Pat Quinn on Wednesday a bill making Illinois the sixth state to allow civil unions for both gay and heterosexual couples.
The Senate passed the historic measure 32-24. East Central Illinois' four area senators split on the issue, with Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, and Dan Rutherford, R-Chenoa, voting yes. Sens. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, and Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, voted no.
Rutherford, who last month was elected state treasurer, was the only Republican to vote for the bill (SB 1716). He noted that in 2004 he supported the Illinois Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation.
"It was uncomfortable for a lot of people to even have the debate," Rutherford said. "I voted for that bill because in my heart I truly believed that it was the right thing to do."
Rutherford said he had campaigned throughout Illinois in the last year as a statewide candidate.
"And one thing that I do know about the people of Illinois is that they want fairness. The people of Illinois, they don't want discrimination," Rutherford said. "There's going to be much said about this legislation, but the one thing I do know is it's the right thing to do."
The legislation will go into effect on July 1, 2011, once it is signed, as expected, by Quinn.
It permits unmarried couples to file an application with the local county clerk for a civil union license. The license shall be granted, according to the legislation, "upon being furnished satisfactory proof that the civil union is not prohibited."
Civil unions are prohibited for people under 18, for people still married or in another civil union or for people closely related, such as first cousins.
Much of the opposition to civil unions came from church and conservative groups. But some Republicans criticized supporters for promoting the bill because of the state's grave fiscal condition.
"It's amazing. We're under this huge burden of debt," said Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon. "We have a budget that we have failed to be able to balance. It seems to be on everyone's mind yet we come back here and spend a lot of time on issues like this."
Sen. Chris Lauzen, R-Aurora, had a similar complaint.
"Why civil unions now? We have nearly 10 percent of Illinois workers unemployed, home foreclosures are at all-time highs, our budget is unconstitutionally and catastrophically unbalanced, state pensions are bankrupt, social service decimated, education on its knees," Lauzen said.
"We are the incompetence laughingstock of government mismanagement and misplaced priorities. And our one-party leadership spends our time on homosexual civil unions."
But the Senate sponsor of the bill, Sen. David Koehler, D-Pekin, quoted from the late U.S. Sen. Everett Dirksen – the Illinois Republican Rep. Bill Black, R-Danville, quoted Tuesday when the bill passed the House.
"It is said on the night that he died, Victor Hugo wrote in his diary substantially this sentiment: stronger than all armies is an idea whose time has come," Koehler said, reading a Dirksen quote in favor of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. "The time has come for equality of opportunity and sharing in government, in education, in employment. It will not be stayed or denied. It is here. There is moral basis for our cause."
Sen. Michael Frerichs of Champaign is my senator. Even my representative, Bill Black (though I'm trying to get that district changed) is absolutely AWESOME, and it's awesome that he passed the bill in the IL house yesterday - his last day of being in the IL house after many, many years.