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Illinois legalizes civil unions

By Brittany Lewis
On June 5, 2011

Janean Watkins and Lakeesha Harris of Chicago stood outside the Daley Center at midnight on May 31. They were the first in line among many gay couples who were waiting for the next day when their relationship could be formally recognized. Like many other couples, Harris and Watkins have children together and have been together for more than a decade. However, their relationship was not recognized by the state until Wednesday, June 1, when civil unions became legal in Illinois.

Cook County Clerk David Orr's office issued 203 civil union licenses on Wednesday, June 1. The oldest couple, James Darby, 79, and Patrick Bova, 73, have been together for nearly half a century.

Darby said, "I've been dating for 47 years; it's finally going to be legitimate!"

Couples who received a civil union had to wait at least 24 hours before they could perform a ceremony.

With a civil union, partners have the rights to:

  • Make funeral and end-of-life decisions
  • Share a room in a nursing home
  • Automatic hospital visitation
  • Adoption and parental rights
  • Receive pension and inheritance rights
  • Decide how to dispose of a partner's remains
  • Not testify against each other in court

Thirty-five couples, including Darby and Bova, held ceremonies for their civil unions at Millennium Park on Thursday. Governor Pat Quinn addressed the crowd and said the law that was passed earlier this year is "one of the most important bills Illinois has passed in any one's memory."

He went on to add, "There are all kinds of families in Illinois, but we are all the family of Illinois." Civil unions were legalized in Illinois after Gov. Quinn signed the legislation in early May, and the law officially went into effect on Wednesday.

There were about a half-dozen protesters standing outside the ceremonies. Although the civil union law is in effect, many are still opposed to the idea. The Illinois Defense of Marriage Initiative is working to gather 300,000 signatures to put an advisory referendum measure on the 2012 ballot that would oppose the civil unions law. Similar groups in other states are working to put the same referendum on their ballots.

Despite the small number of protesters, it was an emotional and historical day for many couples in Illinois. Illinois is the sixth state to allow civil unions, which are granted to both same-sex and opposite-sex couples.

For Watkins, waiting in line for their civil union was well worth it.

"We won't spend any more hours toiling over 'How are we going to make sure people understand our family?'" he said.

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