Saturday, May 23, 2009

Illinois Looking to Pass Civil Unions Bill, But Is the Process Honorable?

The Illinois General Assembly is expected to approve a measure next week that would legalize civil unions, according to Rick Garcia, political director for Equality Illinois. He's "absolutely" expecting the full state House and the Senate to pass a civil union measure either Tuesday or Wednesday. The bill has support from Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D).

However, it's not as straightforward as it sounds. (No pun intended) Instead of truly being approved as legislation, the civil unions bill is being attached as an "amendment" to an already Senate-approved "shell bill" which deals with death and estate issues. If the House approves the shell, it will return to the Senate for concurrence.

The reasoning behind this, says Garcia, is that Illinois lawmakers often use "shell bills" to pass legislation expediently when short on time. It also limits the time that opponents of civil unions can lobby lawmakers.

"We get it out of the House and then senators only have a few hours of being beat up by our opponents rather than three days or a long weekend," he said. "Since there is a perfectly legitimate way of doing it in one day, that's what we're going to do."

Should the measure become law, both gay and straight couples could enter into civil unions and religious institutions could choose their participation. As there's no explicit language regarding an effective date, couples could start entering into civil unions 30 days after the bill is signed into law.

Though I am happy this is happening, I have voiced my concerns with going after civil unions in Illinois in the first place. And now we're using a strategy to to pass a bill that, though still legitimate, opens the floodgates to criticisms that we're avoiding a true, valid debate on the issue with our opponents. Not the first time we've heard that.

Yes, I do want it to pass, but with full due process, like it was in Maine with the public hearings. I lived in Illinois for ten years, so I know how much I would've like to have this right. However, we've been accused of using slight-of-hand maneuvers before to sneak rights bills through without true opposing views being expressed. Especially if we know we could lose. So isn't that what's happening here? Aren't those criticisms valid?

This bill's process is legitimate, and there is a full vote, but like Garcia said, it hardly gives time to true debate. Or for that matter, an honorable passage. That's not how I want to win my rights. Do you?

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