Every Valentine’s Day for the past seven or eight years, Roseann Szalkowski and Barb McMillan walked into the DuPage County Clerk’s office to ask for a marriage license, and every year the answer was the same: no.
“I’d like to ask for a marriage license,” said McMillan, tears welling in her eyes. An equally emotional Wilkovich, who for years was saddened to turn the couple away, again couldn’t grant a marriage license, but she told the couple, “I’m happy to say that you can apply for a civil union license.”
workers, Szalkowski, 50, and McMillan, 60, who come from Roselle and have been together 11 years, were the first to be granted a civil union license in DuPage County.
Illinois is now the sixth state that allows civil unions or their equivalent, and two other states — Hawaii and Delaware — have passed civil-union laws that have not yet been enacted.
Advocates of gay and lesbian rights say the civil union law is a historic moment worthy of celebration, but they stress that it in no way marks the end of their work. The next step would be to follow either a judicial or legislative path toward the legalization of same-sex marriage.
Similar scenes to the one in DuPage played out around the Chicago area this morning, the first day that same-sex couples were eligible for civil-union licenses.
In Cook County, Janean Watkins and Lakeesha Harris camped overnight outside the Daley Center to be the first in line as the state’s new civil-unions law kicked in.
The couple has six children who will all be in attendance at a formal civil union ceremony tomorrow.
Watkins and Harris were followed by more than 100 other couples who arrived early to get licenses.
Vicki Kenyon and Lisa Martin of Skokie were up at 4 a.m. and headed to the Daley Center to get a license to legally cement their nearly 10-year relationship.
“We thought we’d just get it done in Skokie,” Martin said. “But then we figured, hey, if they’re going to throw a party downtown, we should be there, be part of history.”
Couples can obtain licenses starting today, but must wait a day before holding a ceremony. On Thursday, the governor and Mayor Rahm Emanuel will be on hand in Millennium Park as more than 30 couples enter into civil unions.
The group The Civil Rights Agenda plans to host another cluster of civil union celebrations on Friday at the Chicago History Museum. Anthony Martinez, the group’s executive director, said at least 30 couples signed up, reflecting the widespread enthusiasm he has seen in the city’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
Linda Zetterberg, 59, and Sherry Burlingame, 52, wed in Ontario, Canada, on May 27, 2005, but showed up to the DuPage County clerk’s office today to see if their marriage would recognized in Illinois now that civil union licenses are being issued.
Plus, they wanted to be around to congratulate other same-sex couples.
“We’ve waited for a long time for this,” said Zetterberg, just as the office’s first couple became licensed. “We had to drive with all of our paperwork in a glove compartment in case anything happens.”
DuPage County clerk’s office officials told the couple they did not know whether foreign marriage licenses are now honored in Illinois and said they would have to defer to their legal department.
Workers who typically issue marriage licenses also had to make adjustments in how they addressed the civil union applicants.
One couple, Martha Flores, 37, and Jessica Meyer, 33, of Westmont, who became licensed just before 11 a.m., for example, didn’t know the proper term to use when referring to their relationship status would be once they held a ceremony.
“Certified” would be the proper term to use, not married, said Wilkovich, the department supervisor, who had to learn the appropriate terminology.
Flores and Meyer have been together since 2009. Flores moved in with Meyer shortly afterward.
The couple from Glendale Heights said they initially wanted to have a less formal commitment ceremony, but decided to hold off when they learned of the possibility that civil unions would be legalized in Illinois.
Once the possibility became reality, “I didn’t want to wait because I was afraid that what happened in California would happen here,” said Flores of California’s constitutional amendment in 2008 that limited marriage to be between only a man and a woman.
By 11 a.m. at the DuPage County clerk’s office five people had been granted licenses to certify their civil unions. Meyer was surprised to find the office empty when the couple arrived.
Flores was not.
“For the most part I thought DuPage County was pretty homophobic,” Flores said.
To the couple’s surprise, everyone in the office treated them with respect.
“You’ve been waiting a long time,” the woman who licensed the couple told them as they walked out of the door.
At an unrelated event today, Gov. Pat Quinn applauded the law.
“I signed that law, and I think it’s a good law,” Quinn said. “I think it makes us a better state. I think it’s important that Illinois be a place of tolerance and welcoming to all.”
In Lake County, about a dozen couples lined up outside of the clerk’s office this morning.
Sam Johnson, 45 and Michael Maurello, 44, of Beach Park, who have been together for 12 years, said that while they didn’t need a piece of paper to show their commitment to each other; they came to be a part of history.
“Since so many people went to so much trouble to make this happen we wanted to show our appreciation,” Johnson said.
“It is important to show our support in numbers,” added Maurello, who said he works at the Art Institute of Chicago and has seen the numbers of people demonstrating against civil unions downtown. “If they repeal it, hopefully they won’t be able to take this away from us.”
Mel Robson, 39 and Jessie Ritter, 33, of Gurnee, a lesbian couple, came to the courthouse this morning with their 2-year-old daughter, Bella Ritter-Robson. The couple has been together for almost 11 years.
“This is a big step for our family, so she should be a part of it,” Ritter said.
The couple had a wedding for family and friends over five years ago.
“That was the celebration,” Robson said. “This is the paperwork that follows.”
I am all for Civil Unions. I believe that if you have a significant other same sex or not, that the partner should have a say in life decisions and be able to get same partner benefits (medical, 401K, etc). Where I work we have partner benefits for medical.
It has been forecast that Gay Marriage is an inevitably in all 50 states. While I am not for Gay Marriage if it becomes law I will respect it.
There is a big HOWEVER to this:
If Bible believing churches are forced by the government in any way to perform Gay Wedding Ceremonies whether it is under threat of taking away their tax-exempt status or outright forcing the church to close and/or forcing said church to use its property to perform the Gay Marriages. Then, you bet your life I will be out there with a picket sign.
I would like to believe that this is not the Gay Community’s intent on forcing Bible Believing Churches to perform the ceremonies but after reading this article from last January at Chicago’s Holy Name Cathedral; I am not so sure.