Wednesday to become a landmark for gay rights in Illinois

Tue. May 31, 2011 5:57 AM by Kevin Wayne

gov. quinn signed civil unions bill on jan. 31, 2011

photo credit // anthony meade

County clerk offices around Illinois will open early Wednesday to accommodate civil union registrations

Chicago, IL - Wednesday, June 1, will become a landmark day for gay rights in Illinois as the state's civil unions law takes effect, allowing both same-sex and heterosexual couples to enter into civil unions granting them many rights already afforded married couples.

On Jan. 31, Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Unions Act, which was passed by Illinois lawmakers in December. The passage of the law was the culmination of years of work by openly gay State Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), who first introduced the legislation in March 2007.

"All I hear about are couples who are so excited about planning their event, about sharing this with their family and friends," Harris told the GateHouse News Service. "It's a whole new world for Illinois, and I think it's a good thing."

It's unclear how many couples will apply for civil union licenses beginning Wednesday, though after holding more than 40 educational civil unions sessions around Illinois, Equality Illinois reports an "incredible outpouring of interest" throughout the state, not just Chicago.

Illinois County clerk offices plan to open early on Wednesday, including the office of Cook County Clerk David Orr.

"I'm thrilled this day has finally come," said Orr. "This will be a joyous day for all couples — gay and straight — who want to make history as part of the inaugural group of civil unions."

The Cook County Clerk's Vital Records office, located inside the Daley Center at 50 W. Washington St., will open at 7:30 a.m. The first couple in line will receive a gift package. All other couples in line by 7:30 a.m. will be eligible for a gift raffle.

Couples may get a license in the county where the ceremony is to be performed on June 1, but couples must wait at least one day before the ceremony is to be performed. The license expires 60 days after being issued.

The City of Chicago plans a celebration of civil unions on Thursday, June 2 when 30 same-sex couples gather in Millennium Park for a ceremony in their honor. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel plan to attend. 

"Our state's first civil union ceremonies will mark a day of celebration and an historic milestone on the road to full marriage equality for LGBT Illinoisans," said Mayor Emanuel. "I look forward to attending this joyful event."

The Civil Rights Agenda, one of the LGBT advocacy groups that lobbied support for the civil unions act, will hold a mass civil union ceremony on June 3. Unite with Pride: A Community Celebration will be held at the Chicago History Museum.

Civil unions insure a broad range of rights, including hospital visitation rights, right to inherit even if the deceased didn't leave a will, and right to access spousal health insurance benefits provided by employers.

Lambda Legal and Equality Illinois created an online registry to assist LGBT Illinois residents navigate the new civil union system.

Illinois is the sixth state to allow civil unions, which are not recognized by the federal government. Illinois law remains to limit marriage to one man and one woman.

Related: Leading up the historic mass civil-unions ceremony, celebrates the love and commitment of five couples taking part in the day's legally-binding festivities.

"A Passionate Couple:" Jim and Patrick
"Loyal. Love. Exceptional." Erica and Wanda
"Committed and Traditional:" Troy and Qadree
"Exciting Happiness:" Tenisha and Shanelle
"Spiritually Grounded; Creator Centered:" The Rev. Brenda and Lee