Illinois to offer civil union licenses on June 1

May 26, 2011 6:21:47 PM PDT
Illinois will begin offering civil union licenses next Wednesday, June 1. For the first time in state history, gay and lesbian couples will have many of the same rights as married couples.

Luticia Smith and Nancy Coleman have been a couple for eight years, and on June 1,they will be issued a license to validate their relationship. It is a historic event to finally have their relationship recognized by the state. After obtaining the license, a couple must wait until the following day to have the civil union performed by a judge or religious official.

"We're going to be afforded rights that so many of our friends and family are automatically allowed just through marriage," Smith said.

Smith and Coleman are planning to have a religious ceremony in a few weeks for friends and family in La Grange. The couple has 60 days to return the license to the Cook County Clerk's Office as proof of the union. Civil unions are not recognized by the federal government.

"We're going to have a holy union ceremony, that's what we're calling it, and it is to acknowledge our civil union. Then our union will be registered through Cook County and the state of Illinois," Coleman said.

"It's a new state law, which means now that people in partnerships, and they might be same-sex partners or heterosexual couples, they now can legally have a relationship that's recognized by the state. You dissolve a civil union relationship just like you would a regular marriage relationship," said Cook County Clerk David Orr.

Some organizations do not agree with the state's decision to allow civil unions.

"The government doesn't have a compelling reason to recognize the relationships," said David Smith with the Illinois Family Institute.

    Proponents talk about the 648 benefits and protections as a result of a civil union that include:
  • Hospital visitation rights
  • Emergency medical decision making powers
  • Right to inheritance
  • Joint state tax filings
  • Access to employer benefits such as health insurance
  • Pension sharing

"It's not portable. When a couple leaves the boundaries of Illinois, the union will not be recognized," said Bernard Cherkasov with Equality Illinois.

"It's important that these couples have right now the protections that they need for their families. Now, we've got a long way to go to get to marriage," said Camilia Taylor, an attorney with Lambda Legal in Chicago, which is a national group that helped draft the Illinois civil union bill.

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