Same-sex unions officially turn legal in U.S. state of Illinois

08:35, June 02, 2011      

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Homosexual partners were waiting for registration in Chicago on wednesday.Illinois accepted legal homosexual marriage on Jun.1 ,2011 ,becoming the 6th State in the US which regards homosexual marriage as legal .(Xinhua/Jiang Xintong)

by Ted Regencia

Four months after Governor Pat Quinn signed the legislation recognizing same-sex unions, the U.S. state of Illinois opened its doors to gay partners seeking official state recognition on Wednesday.

In downtown Chicago, the office of Cook County Clerk David Orr started issuing civil union licenses at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Orr hosted a reception at the downtown office for all applicants, after they received their license, which is valid within 60 days of its issuance.

"I'm thrilled this day has finally come," Orr said in a press release. "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."

Aside from downtown Chicago, licenses were also available all across the state.

According to the new law, all couples must wait one day before holding a ceremony, which means that June 2 is the first day ceremonies can be performed.

On that day, a mass civil union ceremony organized by Chicago will be held at the Millennium Park. Mayor Rahm Emanuel along with Governor Quinn and many gay-rights activists are expected to attend.

It was on Jan. 31 that Governor Quinn signed the landmark legislation.

"Today is an important day in the history of our state because today we are showing the world that the people of Illinois believe in equality for all," Quinn said at the time.

Erik Roldan, public information officer of Lambda Legal, told Xinhua that 33 couples are expected to participate in the ceremony.

Within 10 days of a ceremony, civil union officiants must return the completed license for it to be certified and recorded by the county clerk.

"The struggle for civil union was long fought and hard won," Bernard Cherkasov of Equality Illinois said in an interview with Xinhua. "People have been in relationships for such a long time" and are eagerly anticipating the civil union to begin, he added.

But obviously not everyone is pleased with the legislation. Speaking to Xinhua, David E. Smith of the Illinois Family Institute described it as "radical."

In a separate statement, Smith said the passage of civil union for same-sex couples "is a tragic attempt by radical forces to advance a political agenda."

"Unfortunately, this social experiment will have a ripple effect on our culture that will touch every American and, most tragically, our children," said Smith, whose group is working to gather signatures to force a ballot initiative to define marriage as between a man and a woman.

"The state has no compelling interest in legally recognizing homosexual relationships," he contended.

Chicago's influential Catholic Church also opposed the law. Cardinal Francis George of the Chicago Archdiocese said: "No one has the right to change the nature of marriage."

"The public understanding of marriage will be negatively affected by passage of a bill that ignores the natural fact that sexual complementarity is at the core of marriage," he noted.

For Francis Britanico and Robert Montecalma, the bill's signing means they will no longer have to worry about issues such as medical decisions and insurance benefits.

The two nurses have been together for four years and they live in the Chicago suburb of Skokie.

"I'm glad," Montecalma said. "Finally in Illinois, they recognize gay couples."

Carla Shaw and Karen Behen have been together for 19 years. They live in Decatur, Illinois.

"We're very excited," Shaw said. "We've been together 19 years and this is something that we've been hoping to see in our lifetime."

The law, titled Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act, gives partners the right to hospital visitation and insurance coverage. It also gives partners the right to dispose of property in case of incapacity or death.

At the same time, the law gives protection to religious institutions to define marriage, without forcing them to recognize same-sex unions or to solemnize such unions.

Those who are qualified to get a civil union license must be at least 18 years old and should not be related to one another. Applicants must present proper identification and pay a fee of 35 U.S. dollars.

According to the clerk's office, couples who are already registered as domestic partners in Cook County will receive a 20- dollar discount, and their domestic partnership "will be automatically dissolved" in lieu of the civil union.

Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont give same-sex couples the legal right to marry. Illinois will join several other states that permit those couples either civil union or domestic partnership status.

Source: Xinhua
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