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The Illinois General Assembly now has an opportunity to take an important step in the movement toward fairness. A proposal now being considered by the Illinois House creates "civil unions" in our state, allowing all couples (including same-sex couples) to enjoy the legal protections and responsibilities of marriage.

The bill, introduced in March, provides these protections without offending those who express deep concern about changing the institution of marriage to help gay and lesbian couples and their families.

Without arguments about the religious tradition of marriage in a church, synagogue or mosque, the issue before the legislature is simply about fairness.

Providing legal protections for same-sex couples recognizes that all persons in long-term, committed relationships face crises as a family - including decisions about emergency health care, the need to make decisions about disposition of a loved one's remains and the desire to share a room in a nursing home or long-term care facility.

When married couples face these crises, they confront no questions about the ability to make decisions or care for their partner. When same-sex couples face the same challenges, they are often treated as "strangers" in the eyes of the law.

Recognizing civil unions serves one of the primary functions of government - to ensure equal access to basic rights to all citizens.

The leaders of Illinois must act immediately to ensure that all families in Illinois have the basic legal protections that allow parents and their children to deal with moments of crisis.

Robert W. Warfield

Bloomington

The writer is chair of the Central Illinois

Chapter of the ACLU.

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