Carla Shaw and Karen Behen have been together for 19 years. The couple have known each other since childhood. But it was not until years later that they decided to become partners.
In between, Shaw got married and had two children. She later divorced her now-deceased husband, who she said was supportive of her relationship with another woman. Her two grown sons have also welcomed Behen, she noted.
On June 2, Shaw and Behen of Decatur will make it official at a mass ceremony planned at Millennium Park in downtown Chicago.
"We're very excited," Shaw told Skokie Patch. "We've been together 19 years and this is something that we've been hoping to see in our lifetime."
Nearly four months after Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation recognizing same-sex unions, the Cook County 2nd District Courthouse in Skokie and other courts across Illinois will open their doors to gay partners seeking official state recognition starting June 1.
In Cook County, the downtown office of County Clerk David Orr plans to start issuing licenses at 7:30 a.m.
While the filing of papers and the ceremony are allowed at the Skokie courthouse, applicants are "encouraged" to obtain their license, at least on the first day, at the Daley Center located at 50 W. Washington St. in downtown Chicago, Orr's spokesman Courtney Greve said Tuesday.
On June 1, Orr will host a reception at the downtown office for all applicants, after they receive 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 the downtown Chicago and Skokie locations, licenses are also available at the clerk's offices in Rolling Meadows, Maywood, Markham and Bridgeview.
According to the new law, all couples must wait until the day after they obtain their license to have a civil union ceremony. So June 2 is the first day ceremonies can be performed.
On June 2, a mass civil union ceremony organized by Chicago will be held at the Millennium Park. Mayor Rahm Emanuel along with the governor are expected to attend.
Erik Roldan, public information officer of Lambda Legal, told Skokie Patch 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," said Bernard Cherkasov of Equality Illinois. "People have been in relationships for such a long time" and are eagerly anticipating the civil union to begin, he added.
But not everyone is pleased with the legislation, with David E. Smith of the Illinois Family Institute calling it "radical."
"We're sad and we're extremely disappointed that the Illinois General Assembly thought it was necessary to pass a piece of legislation in a lameduck session," Smith told Skokie Patch.
He said the legislation has "radically redefined what it means to be a spouse."
In a 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.
But Cherkasov said, such a move will be challenged legally by Equality Illinois and other gay-rights groups.
U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) sent Skokie Patch a statement calling the June 2 mass civil union "a historic day for Illinois and long overdue for many couples"
The Northside congresswoman said the ceremony "is a fitting testament of the importance of this day to many families and a celebration of the many loving couples who will benefit from the move to eradicate discrimination against gays and lesbians."
She also vowed to support future legislation giving full marriage rights under the federal law. "I will continue to work to make that happen,” added the lawmaker for the 9th Congressional District.
The law called 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 much be at least 18 years old and should not be related to one another. Applicants must present proper identification and pay a $35 fee.
According to the clerk's office, couples who are already registered as domestic partners in Cook County will receive a $20 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.