My mother and I spoke to our district's representative. He is a Republican, a conservative, and a very amiable man. He spoke with us for about five minutes, and listened to everything we had to say. And he also told us outright that he was voting No on the civil unions bill. Why? Because he honestly wasn't aware that gay couples in Illinois don't and aren't allowed to have the same protections and freedoms granted automatically to straight married couples.
He told us that committed gay couples could have the same protections as long as they filled out some extra paperwork: power of attorney, living wills, things like that. The problem is, all the papers in the world won't grant certain protections, including access to annulment and divorce laws. And even with paperwork, the lack of an easily verifiable legal connection can cause problems.
Some of these stories are taken directly off of the ACLU's fact sheet about HB 1826. One of them is taken from 2007's Academy Award-winning Documentary Short. The facts:
- A woman in Champaign, Illinois, cared for her partner as she battled a fatal liver disease. When her partner died, this woman was denied the right to make arrangements for her partner's cremation, despite their long, committed relationship.
On our way down to Springfield, our driver told us another story like this one, where an Illinois man couldn't even bury his long-time partner because he had no legal connection to him, and the partner's estranged biological family refused to help him get his partner's body released from the morgue.
- A police officer in New Jersey, Lieutenant Laurel Hester, found out while she was dying of cancer that she wasn't allowed to leave her pension to her partner of many years. She spent the time leading up to her death fighting for this benefit that would have been hers automatically, if civil unions between gay couples had been legal in her state. Watch the documentary Freeheld for more about this case.
- Emergency room staff would not allow former Illinois Representative Larry McKeon of Chicago to make critical life care decisions for his unconscious life partner, because the hospital could not locate the durable medical power of attorney paperwork on file. McKeon was forced to leave his partner's bedside to retrieve another copy of the paperwork. During this delay, his partner died.
So we're not talking about gay people here. We're talking about people, people who aren't allowed to provide for their loved ones, aren't allowed to grieve properly for their loved ones, and sometimes cannot even be there to hold a loved one's hand as they die.
What HB 1826 provides for both gay and straight couples in civil unions:
- Emergency medical decision-making power.
- Access to state spousal benefits, including worker's compensation, pension coverage, and the privilege of sharing a nursing home room.
- Access to domestic relations law and procedure, including annulment/invalidity, separation, divorce/dissolution, and disposition of property.
- Access to civil actions dependent on spousal status, including wrongful death actions and emotional distress claims.
- Wills, trusts, and estates.
- Tax relief at state and municipal levels.
- Domestic violence/abuse protections.
- Spousal testimonial privilege.
- Right to control disposition of remains.
What the bill does not provide for:
- No religious or other private organization will be required to recognize gay unions.
- No private adoption agency, faith-based or otherwise, will be required to allow adoptions by gay couples. The adoption laws of Illinois are an entirely different matter, and have absolutely nothing to do with this bill.
HB 1826 was very carefully written so that it would provide the legal protections afforded to straight couples, no more, no less.
Another reason why my district's representative was going to vote no on this bill? He had received hundreds of letters urging him to vote against it, and only a few urging the opposite. But I know there are good people in Illinois who want to do the right thing and might not know how.
So if you live in Illinois or know someone who does, and you believe in fairness for all people, please, please visit the ACLU's Illinois website. You can find your district's representative and send them a fax, email, or a postcard. If you're willing to take a little more time, you can send them a handwritten, personalized letter, which will have an even greater effect. And next Wednesday, the ACLU will be taking another group of people down to talk directly to their representatives. I highly recommend this trip; it was a great experience. I met some awesome people, and we really made a difference.
Even if you don't live in Illinois, you can go to the ACLU website and check out what's going on with civil unions in your state. If you live outside the US, um, rock on? There are a lot of other countries that already provide for gay unions/marriages, actually, so if you live in one of them, awesome! And if any of you know anyone who lives in Illinois who would be interested in supporting this bill, whether they're gay, straight, bi, or whatever, point them in this direction? Things will only change if we get enough people committed to changing them, which I think (I hope) we can!
Also, I'm gay and kind of adorable, so do it for me? *gives you a sweet, pathetic, pleading look*