Calling on legislators to embrace the fundamental values of fairness and equality, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois today hailed the introduction of House Bill 2234 - the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act - in the Illinois General Assembly. The legislation sponsored by State Representative Greg Harris of Chicago extends a comprehensive package of basic legal protections and responsibilities -- now offered only through Illinois' marriage laws -- to couples, including lesbian and gay male couples, who enter into a civil union.

House Bill 2234 extends inheritance rights, domestic violence protections and emergency medical decision-making rights to lesbian and gay male couples in Illinois who elect to enter into a civil union. The measure also restates existing constitutional protections for religious institutions and denominations across Illinois, clearly restating the right of any religious organization to determine those marriage ceremonies the denomination wishes to recognize or perform.

"This is a matter of basic fairness," said Colleen K. Connell, executive director of the ACLU of Illinois. "Our friends, our neighbors, our colleagues and other gay and lesbian couples in our community are compelled to confront the challenges of this economy and life without the basic legal and economic protections offered by civil unions."

"Lesbian and gay families struggle with the harsh reality of this economy, but with the extra burden of knowing that the State may not even recognize their relationship. We hope the State of Illinois can adopt this modest measure to provide these families a small measure of assistance," added Connell. "It's a step in the right direction to the full equality that can only be achieved by allowing lesbian and gay males to marry; but it is an important first step."

House Bill 2234 was introduced by Representative Harris in the last session of the General Assembly, but failed to advance after clearing a House Committee.