The Illinois General Assembly is expected to pass a measure next week allowing civil unions for gay couples.

Rick Garcia, political director for Equality Illinois, told the Washington Blade that he “absolutely” expects the House and Senate to pass a civil union measure next Tuesday or Thursday.

The bill was introduced by state representative Greg Harris, an openly gay Democrat from Springfield, along with 12 Democratic co-sponsors.

The legislation allowing civil unions will be attached as an amendment to a “shell bill” that has already been approved by the Senate.

If the full House votes in favour of the legislation, the bill will be sent to the full Senate within hours for a vote of concurrence, Garcia said.

The official purpose of the shell bill relates to death and estate issues.

Garcia said Illinois lawmakers frequently use shell bills to pass legislation expediently. He added that this method had been chosen because the legislative session ends on May 30th, restricting the time opponents of civil unions will have to oppose the bill.

“We get it out of the House and then senators only have a few hours of being beat up by our opponents rather than three days or a long weekend,” he said. “Since there is a perfectly legitimate way of doing it in one day, that’s what we’re going to do.”

The bill will not legalise marriage for same-sex couples.

However, it will provide them with a separate legal framework that offers many marriage-like benefits for gay couples, such as the right to visit their partners in hospitals and make medical decisions.

The bill would also recognise legal gay marriages and civil unions performed elsewhere as civil unions.

A similar law for civil unions made it out of committee two years ago, but never got a final vote in the Illinois house.