Tepid applause for Illinois.

On Tuesday, the Illinois House approved a civil unions bill, and the Illinois Senate approved it on Wednesday. The governor has already promised to sign it. Presently, five states, the District of Columbia, and the Coquille Indian Tribe have marriage equality, and eleven states allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions or some other second-class legal relationship. Illinois will make the twelfth state in the latter category.

With Governor Quinn’s signature, the new law will take effect on 1 July 2011. It will be a significant improvement in the situation of Illinois same-sex couples, allowing some level of recognition even without a sheaf of expensive legal documents — documents that, all too often, aren’t recognized anyway. However experience in other states has demonstrated that civil unions don’t always solve that problem, and that people like employers and hospital personnel often continue to trample even the limited rights accorded same-sex couples under civil unions. A separate and unequal status for same-sex couples is not the solution. Full equality under the law is the solution.

But it’s a step forward, and it will make life a lot easier for same-sex couples in Illinois. The state hasn’t done well, exactly, but it has done better than the thirty-three states that don’t recognize same-sex couples at all. So I tip my hat to the Land of Lincoln. Forgive me if I don’t throw it in the air.

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