Illinois Civil Union Act should be accepted by law and society

The original version of this editorial misidentified the quote beginning “We hold these truths…” as coming from the U.S. Constitution. The quote is from the Declaration of Independence. The Daily Illini regrets the error and it has been correction in this version.

Among our government’s many tasks, there is a fundamental obligation to protect all citizens equally. Equality is granted in our Constitution, and emphasized in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act has passed a House committee and is headed for the House floor.

If passed by the General Assembly, the law would make Illinois the fifth state to allow LGBT civil unions, joining New Jersey, California, New Hampshire and Vermont, according to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

There have certainly been periods of American history that have defied the principal of equality. From our country’s formative stages, the right to vote was withheld from women and blacks.

Since grade school, we have been told in history classes that the founding fathers were products of their time – unable to see the injustice of limiting voting rights to white landowners. And that argument has been applied to every generation of Americans that put restrictions on the rights of their fellow citizens for being of a different race, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation.

We do not want our generation to be labeled as “products” of the 21st century.

This law would extend the same basic legal rights to couples regardless of sex, such as the “same legal obligations, responsibilities, protections and benefits afforded or recognized by the law of Illinois to spouses.”

The act, co-sponsored by local state Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, defines a “civil union” as a relationship between two people, regardless of sex.

Arguments against the Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act include an open door to the approval of gay marriage. But this law is not tackling the argument of the institution of marriage, and it separates itself from any religious stance. “No religious denomination is compelled by state government to recognize or solemnize a relationship that falls outside of their religious tradition,” according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

This law isn’t preferential treatment for homosexual couples, but it ensures those couples the equal treatment they deserve. Couples who share the same commitment that married heterosexual couples share should also be legally allowed to reap the same benefits.

Right now, gay and lesbian couples don’t have the right to pursue the happiness that is intrinsic to all Americans, and they should. Our society, as well as the law, needs to be more tolerant and more compassionate than past generations.

What will our grandchildren or great grandchildren learn about the beginning of the 21st century? We hope it will be that we learned from the mistakes of Americans who came before us and extended equal rights to every citizen, regardless of the color of his or her skin or the person he or she loves.