Illinois Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn will sign the landmark Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act into law during a well-attended ceremony this afternoon. The ceremony could be "one of the largest in state history", reports the Chicago Sun-Times.
The governor’s office has been publicizing the bill-signing for a week and expects as many as 1,000 people to show up at the ceremony, which will be held at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington St. "We knew there was going to be a lot of interest in participating in what is a pretty historic moment. There’s only a limited number of states that allow civil unions, and a smaller amount that allow gay marriage," Quinn spokeswoman Brie Callahan said.
When the governor’s office signaled he would sign the legislation, it asked those interested in witnessing the event to RSVP. In the first 12 hours after that initial notice, 200 people responded, Callahan said.
The legislation, which does not alter state law recognizing marriage as being between a man and woman, would grant gays and lesbians new rights involving their partners regarding hospital visits, health-care decision-making and the disposal of remains and estates.
"The turnout is going to be beyond anyone’s expectations," said Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), the bill’s chief House sponsor. "What people are saying to me is this is going to be a historic moment. I had a couple of women tell me they had waited 28 years for this and wanted to be there when it finally happens."
Quinn campaigned on civil unions and urged legislators to fast track the bill. With the governor's signature, effective June 1, 2011, Illinois would become the sixth state to allow civil unions. Five states and the District of Columbia recognize gay marriages.