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updated: 11/14/2010 8:47 PM

State lawmakers could take up civil unions this week

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SPRINGFIELD -- If Illinois officials gave gay couples the right to get civil unions, Warren Matson and his partner, Jim Kramer, could stop taking power of attorney documents with them when they travel.

They've lived together in Winfield since 1999. But because they can't get the same legal rights as a married couple in Illinois, the two need to keep wills and other documents updated and available in case something tragic happened to one of them.

"It's just tiresome," Matson says. "We do not travel without power of attorney."

The General Assembly this week could consider legislation to legalize civil unions for same-sex couples, giving them many of the same legal rights as married people.

If the unions were approved, the two could more easily get on each other's health insurance plans, for example.

And if a couple in a civil union wanted to call things off, they'd have to go through the same legal divorce processes married people do.

Gay-rights advocates aren't certain they'll call the plan for votes in the coming days while lawmakers are in Springfield.

Now that the election is behind them, lawmakers might be more open to votes they deem politically risky.

But some Republicans and conservative Democrats likely will offer staunch opposition to civil unions, saying marriage rights should be granted only to a man and woman. It became a campaign issue for some candidates.

The idea of approving civil unions might be more palatable for some lawmakers, though, than enacting gay marriage in Illinois.

Matson said that's fine with him. He called the difference between the two "semantics."

"I don't understand why this is an issue," he said. "So it's extremely frustrating."

In recent days, Gov. Pat Quinn has said he wants lawmakers to approve civil union legislation soon, and Senate President John Cullerton has suggested it's on the agenda for this week.

State Rep. Greg Harris, a Chicago Democrat, won't say if he's ready to move the legislation.

"You have work to do up until the vote's called," Harris said.