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Illinois civil unions law goes into effect Wednesday

By the CNN Wire Staff
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed the civil unions legislation into law back in January.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed the civil unions legislation into law back in January.
  • Law grants hospital visitation, adoption, parental rights to those in civil unions
  • Gov. Pat Quinn said "the people of Illinois believe in equality for all"
  • An opponent of the law called the effort "divisive" and "anti-family"
  • California, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington and D.C. have similar laws

Read more about this story from CNN affiliate WLS.

(CNN) -- Starting Wednesday, same-sex couples in Illinois can enter into civil unions and enjoy many of the legal protections granted to married couples.

In January, Illinois joined five other states in legalizing civil unions. Gov. Pat Quinn signed the law in front of a crowd of cheering residents during a ceremony in a Chicago auditorium.

"We are showing the world that the people of Illinois believe in equality for all," Quinn said January 31. "We look forward to individuals and businesses from across the country choosing to move to Illinois where we believe that everyone is entitled to the same rights."

The provision, which goes into effect Wednesday, is called Senate Bill 1716 and creates the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act.

The new law will allow same-sex and heterosexual couples to enter into civil unions granting them many rights given to married couples.

These rights include automatic hospital visitation rights, the ability to make emergency medical decisions for partners, the ability to share a room in a nursing home, adoption and parental rights, pension benefits, inheritance rights and the right to dispose of a partner's remains, the governor's office said.

"In addition to Illinois, five other states and the District of Columbia have civil unions or similar laws on the books. Those states include California, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington," the governor's office said.

But some in Illinois object to the new law.

Illinois Family Institute, a nonprofit group that says it wants to reaffirm marriage in the state, called the law "divisive."

"Gov. Quinn should reject this anti-family bill and reject the efforts of the homosexual lobby to impose this highly contentious and controversial policy on the people of Illinois," David E. Smith, executive director of the group, said earlier.

But couples like Mercedes Santos and Theresa Volpe said the new law will dramatically change their lives.

It gives them the rights that other families have when it comes to their 6-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son, they told CNN affiliate WLS earlier this year.

"Our son actually has some illnesses, so going into the hospital, being able to say that we can both be in the room with him and make decisions without too many questions, just makes it easier for us," Santos said.