Illinois starts issuing civil union licenses

June 1, 2011

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(WBEZ/Susie An)
Patrick Bova (left) and James Darby (right) enter the Cook County Vital Records Department to get their civil union license.
(WBEZ/Susie An)
Janean Watkins and Lakeesha Harris were the first couple in Cook County to get their civil union license.

Illinois started issuing civil union licenses Tuesday morning.

The unions, which grant some of the same rights of a traditional marriage on the state level, are for both same-sex and hetero-sexual couples.

Many people lined up early this morning at the Cook County clerk's office in downtown Chicago, including James Darby.

"I must have gone to a thousand weddings in my life time. And I used to watch all the pomp and circumstance. And I used to think, 'gee, I would love to do that some day or something like it.'”

Darby, 79, has been with his partner Patrick Bova for nearly 48 years. Darby and Bova, who is 73, waited in line since 6 a.m.

Darby said the civil union is important to them because they'll have many rights that married couples have such as the ability to make medical and end of life decisions, but also to have their relationship recognized by the state.

It's 2011, and it's finally here," Darby said.

The couple plans to join others in Millennium Park tomorrow for a civil union ceremony hosted by the City of Chicago. Members of the Alliance of Illinois Judges are expected to officiate.

Lakeesha Harris and Janean Watkins, of the West Ridge neighborhood, will also have their ceremony in Millennium Park.

Harris and Watkins, ages 36 and 37 respectively, have been a couple for over a decade. They waited in line outside the Daley Center overnight to ensure they would be first in line. “No one else is here,” Watkins wrote on Facebook Tuesday evening, “unless these two homeless dudes plan on getting hitched!”

The couple has six children, and in the past, has struggled to get adequate schooling for them. 

Earlier: Harris and Watkins detail their struggle as part of WBEZ’s “Dear Chicago” series.

The unions, which were made possible by legislation passed in January grant beneficiaries hospital-visitation rights and the ability to make end-of-life decisions for their partners.

"We've been together for a little over 10 years now, going into our 11th year. It's been a long time,” said Harris. "We wanted it when domestic partnerships were implemented. We felt a little cheated. This is great for us, the civil unions. So we're happy about it," she said.

She said she hopes civil unions will lead the way for marriage for gays and lesbians in Illinois.

Opponents to civil unions protested in Chicago last week. They said they want to protect the traditional meaning of marriage between a man and a woman. The group is collecting signatures to put the civil union issue to a statewide vote.