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updated: 11/14/2010 10:40 PM

Time for civil unions in Illinois is now

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Daily Herald Editorial Board

During his Daily Herald editorial board session prior to the election, Gov. Pat Quinn said he believed civil unions could be passed into law this year. It's time to make that happen.

The fall veto session begins Tuesday. A bill allowing couples gay or straight to get legal rights and benefits through a civil union is ready to be voted on, assuming its sponsors feel they have enough votes for passage. It was passed out of a House committee in the spring but never called for a vote.

Today. we again urge that the legislature pass this bill and allow Quinn to make his prediction come true. It's the right and just thing to do.

Gay couples who love each other and want to commit to each other deserve the same legal protections and rights that any other couple gets when they go to any Illinois courthouse and get married. No longer should gay couples have to spend thousands of dollars to draw up power of attorney documents that others get automatically once receiving recognition from the state. No longer should surviving partners and children of same-sex couples be denied survivor benefits. No longer should Illinois gay couples have to travel to other states to affirm their love.

"I don't understand why this is an issue," Warren Matson of Winfield told Daily Herald state government writer Mike Riopell in a story published today. "So it's extremely frustrating."

Indeed it is. And wrong. And discriminatory. Couples like Matson and his partner, Jim Kramer, must pay thousands of dollars to draw up power of attorney documents, wills and other legal papers to ensure their wishes are carried out in case something tragic happens to one of them. They must carry these documents with them whenever they travel.

And, yet, the House sponsor of the bill, state Rep. Greg Harris, a Chicago Democrat, is still working to guarantee enough votes for passage. With the religious element and marriage taken out of the debate, there is no reason that any legislator, Republican, Democrat, suburban, city or downstate, should oppose this legislation. Civil unions do not constitute an endorsement of gay relationships or straight live-in relationships but merely an acceptance of modern reality, where committed relationships take myriad forms. They certify tolerance for the freedom people should have to live as they choose.

Polls over the years confirm that Illinois residents, like those nationwide, support civil unions. We should join New Jersey in allowing them and the handful of other states that recognize same-sex couples deserve to be treated equally when they commit to each other. With all the recent discussion of the bullying of gay teens in America and the rash of suicides caused by that bullying, Illinois has a chance to send a different message.

As Quinn told us, we "need to encourage tolerance in this state."