Grand Divisions

Tennessee Equality Project seeks to advance and protect the civil rights of our State’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons and their families in each Grand Division.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Closer: Illinois Legislature approves civil unions

On Tuesday, the Illinois House passed the civil unions bill and today the Senate did the same.

"Closer" is the only word I know to capture the situation.

Closer to being law: The bill has yet to be signed by Gov. Pat Quinn, but that is expected to happen soon. Still, nerves are bound to be raw after all the effort put into passing the bill. It always seems as if there is just one more hurdle. As they say, the waiting is the hardest part.

Closer to equality: We all know that civil unions aren't full marriage equality. And even if a marriage bill had passed, we know same-sex marriages in Illinois wouldn't be recognized in most states or by the federal government. And a civil union doesn't confer all the same benefits of a marriage even at the state level, but...what an amazing achievement! Even the benefits conferred by a civil union will help real couples support each other and their families better than they currently can. We should celebrate the hard work of activists and lawmakers in passing this legislation. It is incredibly hard passing positive protections for our community.

Closer to Tennessee: Tennessee still doesn't border any states that offer civil unions or marriage equality. But Southern Illinois is just a barge ride up the river and Chicago is a quick and relatively cheap flight from Nashville and Memphis. Is this as close as Tennessee is going to get to any form of relationship recognition until the federal courts get involved? The bill reminds us that no public body in Tennessee offers a health insurance partner benefit--not State government for its employees, not our public colleges and universities, and not our cities and counties. Might achieving partner benefits in some public body or institution be a good move in the next couple of years for Tennessee's gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community? It's worth taking another look.

Finally, I have to wonder what impact the development has in Northwest Tennessee where news likely pours in from Kentucky, Missouri, and Illinois. Will it increase the temptation for same-sex couples to move? Or will they most simply take a moment to acknowledge the news, swallow hard, and mentally try to move on from facing the ramifications of living in a state that has a marriage discrimination amendment to its constitution instead of civil unions or partner benefits? And what will their neighbors think? Nothing because it doesn't affect them? Or will they have a moment of empathy for their GLBT neighbors or will they say, "Thank God we don't live in Illinois; it's just so liberal"?

Unfortunately, I suspect that's as far as it all goes--a series of private, disconnected reflections not leading to any advances for people who need public protections for their relationships. The gains of states around us bring a sting of pain for those of us in Tennessee, but we still celebrate this important advance for the people of Illinois.

-Chris Sanders

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