Illinois legislators took the first step this week toward legalizing civil unions for same-sex couples.
The bill squeaked through a legislative committee in Springfield Wednesday.
The measure would not legalize same-sex marriages, but it would grant gay couples many of the benefits of marriage. They would have the right to visit their partners in hospitals, make medical decisions and more.
HB2234 creates the Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act.
Rep. Deb Mell, who is gay, said 648 state laws -- on topics from inheritance to health care -- help married couples.
"I find it very strange that I can be elected to the General Assembly and vote on rules and laws, but these don't apply to me and my family," said Mell, D-Chicago. "We're not protected."
State Rep. Greg Harris, the chairperson of the committee and the sponsor of the measure, said in a statement published on the Windy City Media Web site that “this is legislation about fairness and establishing equal rights for everyone in our great state. At the heart of the debate over this bill is a fundamental question: Do the people that this bill applies to deserve the same rights as evreyone else? The answer is ‘absolutely.'”
Opponents argue that civil unions amount to gay marriage by another name.
The House Youth and Family Committee approved the bill by a 5-4 vote, according to the Associated Press. The Chicago Tribune reported the vote was 4-3.
It now heads to the House floor.