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Illinois senate approves bill banning GLBT discrimination

Illinois senate approves bill banning GLBT discrimination

After years of frustration, supporters of a measure to protect gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people from discrimination finally won a battle in the Illinois senate, and the legislature is now on the verge of changing state law. The Democrat-controlled house, which has approved the legislation in past years, will now vote on the bill. A victory there would send it to Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who backs the measure. The legislation dies if not approved Tuesday, however, because it is the last day of the current legislative session. A new general assembly takes over Wednesday. The proposal, which passed 30-27, would add "sexual orientation" to the state law protecting people from bias based on race, religion, and similar traits. The class, which includes gender identity, would be protected from discrimination in jobs, housing, public accommodations, and credit. Communities across Illinois, from Chicago to Bloomington, already have similar laws in effect. Nearly half the state's population is covered by those local ordinances, said the measure's sponsor, Sen. Carol Ronen. But Ronen said GLBT 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 Monday. But opponents say the issue is far more complex. "You're voting on a much, much, much bigger agenda than that," said Sen. Peter Roskam. 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 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. Banning discrimination based on sexual orientation has been debated at the Illinois statehouse for years, with supporters coming closer and closer to success. Given the house's past support and Blagojevich's backing of the measure, senate passage could be their final obstacle. "Yes!" the legislature's only openly gay member, Rep. Larry McKeon, 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. "I think it's an unalienable right that shouldn't be denied."

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