June 16, 2005


Illinois bill drops "illegitimate child" terminology

A story released by the Chicago Sun Times reports that the word "illegitimate," which means illegal or wrong, just aren't fair to describe babies born to unmarried parents, as far as Adrienne Kahn of Wilmette sees it.

So she has persuaded Illinois' powers-that-be to stop calling them that.

A measure awaiting Gov. Blagojevich's signature would strike all references to "illegitimate children" in Illinois' laws concerning adoptions, divorces and inheritance, replacing the words with "child born out of wedlock."

"Children being born today have enough to deal with. Why label them?" said Kahn, who admitted she "went a little nuts" when she first realized last summer the term is still used and started calling legislators asking for the change.

The proposal, which lawmakers approved last month without any official opposition, would not make any substantive changes to the law and also would change "legitimate" to "lawful." Blagojevich spokeswoman Rebecca Rausch said the governor will sign the bill.

In 2003, the last year with available statistics, state records show that roughly 35 percent of Illinois newborns were born to single mothers, a figure that's risen steadily over the last five decades.

Past discrimination illegal

Laws in most states allowed for legal discrimination against children with unmarried parents as recently as the mid-1970s, but a series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions have rejected most of those laws on constitutional grounds.

The terminology remained though, and this latest effort is simply catching up, said Sen. John Cullerton (D-Chicago), the bill's lead legislative proponent.

"That's a reflection of sensitivities that have evolved over the years," he said.

Rep. Chapin Rose (R-Mahomet) initially opposed the measure before finally voting "yes," and dismissed it again Monday as mere political correctness run amok. He also disputed that out-of-wedlock births are "no big deal."

"Call it whatever you want to call it," he said. "There's no good term for an awful situation."