Votes were cast largely along party lines in both chambers with most Republicans withholding support for the respective legislation.

“It’s been a long time in the making but it really does feel good,” said Bernard Cherkasov, Chief Executive Officer of  Equality Illinois. “For tens of thousands of same sex couples across the state of Illinois there will be some immediate relief and protection that they wouldn’t have otherwise had.”

The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. Pat Quinn (D) who has pledged to sign it despite yesterday’s reprimand by the Catholic Church. Quinn, who is Catholic, said he would follow his conscience and sign the bill.

“The Governor is going to sign the bill—and also both during the House debate and Senate debate he has come to the floor of each chamber to show support for civil unions,” explained Cherkasov. “He has done an incredible job in showing his support for recognizing relationships of same sex couples.”

Once enacted, Illinois joins 11 other states and the District of Columbia in providing some form of relationship recognition to same-sex couples, through marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships. The law will go into effect on July 1, pending Gov. Qinn’s signature.

Of particular importance is the reciprocity laid out in section 60 of the law where same sex couples who have been married, united or entered into a substantially similar relationship in other jurisdictions shall automatically be given civil union status in Illinois.

For the news from Illinois will likely have many St. Louis area LGBT couples considering a move to the Metro East.   Such is the case with Stephen Houldsworth and his partner, Graham Matthews.

“Our lease is up on June 30, 2011, and as much as we love living in downtown St. Louis, our plan today is to move to Illinois on July 1, just in time to get a civil union,” Houldsworth explained. “We have chosen not to get married in Iowa because it would not get us any additional benefits, but Graham works in Illinois. So, an Illinois civil union will get us more benefits from Graham’s work.”

With civil union status, LGBT or heterosexual couples will receive a host of state benefits including hospital visitation, the ability to make health-care decisions for their partner and control over how to dispose of a deceased partner’s remains.

But Todd Sivia of Same Sex Legal sees the new standing in probate law and laws relating to estate succession, purchase and distribution of property as the biggest boon.

“The courts are now going to be able to recognize the relationship,” said Sivia, who founded the Metro East firm offering legal representation for LGBT couples. “With civil unions it changes the rules and really allows a transition from two people cohabitating to becoming united.”

Still Sivia warns that until the federal government supports full marriage equality, even legally married or civilly united same sex couples should set up powers of attorney, wills and similar domestic agreements to protect their relationship.

“You still have the issue where you can have a civil union in Illinois but you go to Barnes or any of the hospitals in St. Louis and you’re still going to have issues,” stated Sivia. “I’m a big believer in agreements. You still need some sort of Domestic Partnership Agreement.”

BY: COLIN MURPHY- SENIOR WRITER