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Well over one thousand people packed into the Chicago Cultural Center on Monday to watch Gov. Pat Quinn put pen to paper and make history.
Quinn signed the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act -- SB1716 -- which extends some of the benefits of marriage to gay couples and unmarried heterosexual couples.
"I think this is really something very, very special because we believe in civil rights. We believe in civil unions," Quinn told a supportive audience.
Illinois is now one of only six states to recognize civil unions. The new law takes effect June 1 and allows heterosexual and gay couples the right to make joint financial and health care decisions, as well as medical decisions for a seriously ill partner.
"They would have automatic rights to inherit, even if one of them passes away without a will, and of course the most important right, for many families, is the right to be parent," added Camilla Taylor with Lamda Legal,
Supporters say civil unions are a matter of basic fairness for all Illinois residents, but opponents argue it threatens the sanctity of marriage and moves the state closer to legalizing same-sex marriage.
And there are those who timidly support the legislation, but criticize it for not going far enough.
"For a lot of gay and lesbian couples, it's a validation. Whether they're going to take advantage of the law or not, it's availability that wasn't there before, so a lot of people I know are getting married, still, in Iowa because that's an actual marriage, and thent they still might come back and do civil unions in Illinois," said Tracy Baim, the publisher of the Windy City Times.
Within 12 hours of the governor's office offering public RSVPs to Monday's event, hundreds of people responded, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
Mayor Richard M. Daley, Illinois Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago), Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan (D-Chicago), state Rep. Deborah Mell (D-Chicago), and the bill's sponsors state Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) and state Sen. Dave Koehler (D-46th District) were on hand for the bill-signing.