Ill. Senate OKs bill barring discrimination against gays

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Legislation protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination passed the Illinois Senate on Monday without a vote to spare.

The measure, which passed 30-27, now goes to the Illinois House. The House has backed the idea in past years, and supporters predict the discrimination ban will pass today.

The proposal would add "sexual orientation" to the state law that bans discrimination in jobs, housing, public accommodations or credit. Current state law protects people from bias on race, religion and similar traits.

Communities across Illinois, from Chicago to Bloomington, already have similar laws. Nearly half the state's population is covered by those local ordinances, said the measure's sponsor, Sen. Carol Ronen, D-Chicago. But Ronen said gay people all across Illinois deserve to know they won't be treated unfairly when they apply for a job or rent an apartment.

"This bill does not confer special rights. This bill is about protecting people from discrimination," she said.

But opponents said it was far more complex.

"You're voting on a much, much, much bigger agenda than that," said Sen. Peter Roskam, R-Wheaton.

He said the legislation is vague and could apply to people with a wide variety of sexual behaviors. Roskam also predicted it would lead to a push for legalization of same-sex marriage.

Sen. Christopher Lauzen, R-Aurora, said statistics link homosexuality to lower life expectancy. But he limited most of his argument against the measure to the possibility that small businesses would be hit with a flood of lawsuits by gay people who have been denied jobs.

The measure's supporters said Chicago and Cook County, despite having millions of residents, see only a few dozen complaints each year under their local ordinances.

Barring discrimination based on sexual orientation has been debated at the Statehouse for years, with supporters coming closer and closer to success. Given the House's past support and Gov. Rod Blagojevich's backing of the measure, Senate passage could be their final obstacle.

"Yes!" the Legislature's only openly gay member, Rep. Larry McKeon, D-Chicago, said after the vote. A dozen or so supporters cheered in the Senate gallery.

The vote comes as the current legislative session is ending and new lawmakers are about to be sworn in. At least one lame-duck legislator decided to support the bill after opposing it in the past.

"I had concerns about it, but the more I thought about it the more I think it's just a basic right that is guaranteed to everybody," said Sen. Patrick Welch, D-Peru. "I think it's an unalienable right that shouldn't be denied."

The bill is SB3186.

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