In Chicago, dozens of couples gathered for a ceremony Thursday morning in Millennium Park.
Illinois joins other states in providing civil unions for same-sex or opposite -sex couples . The civil unions give couples the same state-level rights as married partners.
Thursday morning in Millennium Park, Governor Pat Quinn and Mayor Rahm Emanuel attended the civil union ceremonies of 33 couples who have been waiting for this day for a long time.
Jim Darby and Patrick Bova have been together for 47 years. They were the first couple in line scheduled to be united in the first day of civil unions in the park. Friends and family surrounded the happy pair before they vowed to be with each other for the remainder of their lives.
"I never thought this would happen in our lifetime," Darby said.
"Now that this is a reality, it is really quite exciting," said Bova.
"We believe that everyone is in and no one is left out in our state," said Gov. Quinn.
One by one the couples were united with their partners.
Monica Henao and Mireya Hurtado have been together for 13 years and finally are legal in the eyes of Illinois law.
"This is a incredibly emotional for us. It's a day that we've waited for, to have the opportunity to have our family and friends join us," said Hurtado.
"It's very important, because I think that it's a step to getting all the benefits and all the rights that we should have as a couple," said Henao.
Protesters held signs saying they oppose civil unions
"Our ultimate goal is to repeal the civil unions law, but we also want to put on the ballot in 2012 a referendum on same-sex marriage," said Peter LaBarbera of the group Americans for Truth About Homosexuality.
The Honorable Mary Colleen Roberts performed a number of civil unions. Many of the couples were overwhelmed with joy.
"This is amazing - we thought we would never get to this point," said Erica Peterson. "I always felt we were married - in my mind and in my heart."
Peterson entered into a civil union with Wanda McDaniel. Before family and friends, they exchanged vows and rings.
"Wow, I feel fantastic," said McDaniel.
It was an emotional day for Judge Roberts, whose same-sex partner also attended unions in the park. They were married in Ontario three years ago because they could not wait.
"It's a lifetime of hoping and praying that my life and relationshp that I'm involved in is seen as equal as all other committied relationships," said Roberts.
The couples say they are proud to finally be officially recognized as a couple.
"It really makes us proud to be from this state," said Troy Holmes.
"I get to spend the rest of my life with the man that I love," said Jeff Zacharias.
The day ended with a reception at the Chicago Cultural Center and remarks and first toast by Illinois state representatives Greg Harris and Deborah Mell.
Mayor Emanuel told the couples they were embarking on a fruitful journey and gave them his blessing. He also officiated at the civil union of one of his top advisors and the union of his human relations commissioner Mona Noriega to her partner Evette Cardona.
"Civil unions are not equal rights, but we are happy to be here," said Noriega. "I never thought we'd have this."