Chicago, IL -
Starting this morning, both same-sex and heterosexual couples can begin to register for a license to form a civil union in Illinois, as the state's new civil unions law takes effect.
"I'm thrilled this day has finally come," said Cook County Clerk David 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 early at 7:30 a.m. in anticipation of a rush of couples.
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. After obtaining their licenses, couples will be invited to participate in a small celebration.
Couples over the age of 18 may get a license in the Illinois county where the ceremony is to be performed, but couples must wait at least one day before the ceremony is to be performed. The license expires 60 days after being issued.
There is $35 application fee and cash is preferred. MasterCard, American Express and Discover are accepted, personal checks and Visa will not be accepted. Valid and current identification is required.
The gay rights advocacy group Equality Illinois
, which held more than 40 educational civil unions sessions around Illinois, reports an "incredible outpouring of interest" throughout the state, not just Chicago.
The DuPage County clerk's office will open at 8 a.m. and will close at 4:30 p.m. In Kane County the clerk's office will open at 8:30 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. instead of the usual 4:30 p.m. to accommodate couples planning to register today.
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.
Illinois will be the sixth state to allow civil unions. Hawaii and Delaware have passed civil union laws that have not yet been enacted. Civil unions are not recognized by the federal government.