State Civil Union Ready

Article excerpt

Byline: Kerry Lester and Mike Riopell

Over the past six months, as couples have been busy planning civil union ceremonies large and small, public and private, suburban county clerks have been doing a bit of planning of their own.

When they open their doors Wednesday morning, for the first time in Illinois history, clerks' offices will be issuing licenses that will give unmarried couples both gay and straight many of the same rights and benefits that married couples have under Illinois law.

"I wouldn't call it taxing, but we're just being very careful. There are a lot of questions that people ask," Lake County Clerk Willard Helander said of her office's preparations.

Helander along with clerks in Cook, Kane, DuPage, McHenry and Will counties have no way of knowing exactly how many people will apply for licenses on the first day, but some do expect a crowd.

"Between the applicants and the activists and the supporters, we expect a carnival atmosphere," said Cook County Clerk David Orr, an outspoken supporter of the law legalizing civil unions. "We're going make it fun with grab bags and goodies and giveaways."

Gay or straight couples interested in obtaining a civil union will, beginning Wednesday morning, be able to fill out a form together and pay a fee at their respective county clerks' offices, before being provided with a license and certificate.

After a daylong waiting period, civil unions can be certified by a judge or religious minister.

To apply, both partners must be at least age 18 and cannot be related. Individuals cannot be involved in another marriage or civil union at the time of application.

Gay couples showing they were married out of state will automatically be recognized as having civil unions in Illinois, according to the legal defense group LAMBDA. Couples are advised to keep copies of their marriage license on hand at home and if they're traveling out of state, but there is no requirement to register such documents anywhere.

Conversely, couples who don't reside in Illinois and apply for civil union licenses can only receive them if their home state recognizes them. …