Illinois Governor Pat Quinn on Monday signed into law a bill that offers gay and lesbian couples many of the benefits and responsibilities of marriage, the AP reported.

Quinn signed the law, which was approved by lawmakers in December, in front of a capacity crowd.

“Today is an important day in the history of our state because today we are showing the world that the people of Illinois believe in equality for all,” Quinn said. “We look forward to individuals and businesses from across the country choosing to move to Illinois where we believe that everyone is entitled to the same rights.”

The new law, which takes effect June 1, gives couples – gay or straight – the ability to enter into civil unions granting them many rights given to married couples, including hospital visitation rights, adoption and parental rights, inheritance rights, and the right to dispose of a partner's remains.

Illinois joins New Jersey in offering the union. The Hawaii Senate approved a similar bill on Friday. Five states and the District of Columbia have legalized gay marriage. Several other states – including California and Nevada – recognize gay and lesbian couples with domestic partnerships.

In applauding the law, gay rights activists called on lawmakers to push on to marriage.

“Now the legislature and governor should finish the job,” Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry, said in a statement. “Time and again states that have created civil union as a means of both giving and withholding – providing select legal protections while withholding the freedom to marry and all its meaning – have found that civil union falls far short of marriage with all its tangible and intangible significance in our lives.”

“There is no reason to have two lines at the clerk's office when we can all share in the same responsibilities, same respect, and same rules of civil marriage,” he added.

“We look forward to the day when Illinois joins other states in the nation by making marriage available for all Illinois citizens,” said Colleen Connell, executive director of the ACLU of Illinois, which helped draft the law.