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Advocates Hope For Approval Of Medical Leave For Partners In Civil Unions

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (CBS) -- Gay rights activists are hoping for final approval of a state bill that would guarantee a benefit currently offered only to those in marriages recognized by the federal government.

As WBBM Newsradio's Alex Degman reports, the Illinois Civil Union law provides those couples are entitled to the same rights and privileges as those in legal marriages. But due to the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman on the federal level, some federal benefits aren't afforded.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio's Alex Degman reports


Among those benefits are those conferred by the Family and Medical Leave Act, which legally gives an employee 12 weeks of unpaid leave to tend to a sick partner or child.

With that in mind, state lawmakers have proposed a similar law that would just apply to the state of Illinois, but would also cover couples joined in civil unions.

"We find that this is one of those areas that because federal law is lacking, we should pick up the slack and take the lead by joining 10 other states which also has a state Family Medical Leave Act," said Randy Hannig, policy director for Equality Illinois.

Hannig says Illinois' act would cover only businesses with 50 or more employees.

The House Civil Law Committee voted 7-4 in favor of the bill last week. The measure, HB 4724, passed on a party line vote.

The Chicago Phoenix reported last week that the Illinois Chamber of Commerce that it might open the door for couples to sue employers in both federal and state court.

But the publication points out that the bill says straight couples would have to pick either federal or state court if they were suing over an employer's noncompliance with the law, while couples in civil unions would only sue in state court, since federal law does not recognize their unions.

State Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago), one of three openly gay or lesbian state lawmakers, is the sponsor of the bill.

a bill was also introduced last month to legalize same-sex marriage in Illinois.

he Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act , sponsored by state Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), declares that "all laws of this State applicable to marriage apply equally to marriages of same-sex and different-sex couples and their children; parties to a marriage and their children, regardless of whether the marriage is of a same-sex or different-sex couple, have the same benefits, protections, and responsibilities under law."

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