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Illinois Civil Unions Bill Could Pass Today, Opponents Step Up Rhetoric

First Posted: 11/30/10 11:54 AM ET Updated: 05/25/11 07:15 PM ET

Gay Rights

For weeks, supporters of Illinois' civil unions bill have been vocal and confident--and today the Illinois House of Representatives could finally vote on the measure.

Unfortunately for the bill's supporters, anti-gay rights activists have also been drumming up support in recent weeks.

A member of the Illinois Family Institute--which was recently deemed a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center--compared homosexual partners to polygamous and incestuous partners in an interview with the Associated Press Tuesday:

"They have a full-court press on, and we have a full-court press, too," said David E. Smith, executive director of the Illinois Family Institute.

. . .

"It's not legitimate for the government to recognize the relationship of homosexual partners or polygamous partners or incestuous partners," Smith said.

Previously, the group has compared homosexuality to Nazism and has reportedly "made hundreds of thousands of automated calls to voters" in recent months urging voters to speak out against civil unions.

Civil unions would provide legal recognition of gay couples and give them some of the same benefits automatically available to married couples, including the right to visit a sick partner in the hospital and make decisions about their medical care.

Rep. Greg Harris, who sponsored the bill, called himself an "eternal optimist" and said the bill could get a floor debate on Tuesday or Wednesday, and according to the Post-Dispatch.

Supporters told the Associated Press they're close to having the 60 votes needed to pass the measure in the House. If it passes there, backers think the Senate quickly would follow suit and Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn would sign it into law.

"I do think this is the time for Illinois to do this," Quinn told the AP Monday. "This is a good way to show employers -- big businesses all across the country -- that Illinois treats everyone with tolerance."

While polls have shown the majority of Illinois voters support civil unions, anti-gay organizations--and the Catholic Church--have had out-of-state financial help in trying to stop the bill's passage.

ChicagoPride.com reports that the Washington D.C.-based National Organization for Marriage (NOM) has "lobbied hard against the bill" and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has made their case against it as well.

Though opponents are painting SB1716 as an attack on religion and marriage, the bill is actually titled the "Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act." It would not require churches to recognize civil unions or perform any kind of ceremony.

"We think it's just the fair and decent thing to do," Rick Garcia, director of public policy for Equality Illinois, told the AP. "It isn't scary. It's happening all over."

Gay rights activists are urging supporters of SB1716 to contact their legislators by calling the Illinois Capitol switchboard at (217) 782-2000. Equality Illinois will also assist supporters in identifying their legislators on their hotline at (773) 477-7173.

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Filed by Jen Sabella  |