Hundreds of couples lined up early Wednesday to get civil union licenses from the Cook County Clerk's office, as the state's historic civil unions law went into effect.
When signing the legislation in January, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn said the measure was a matter of civil rights and basic fairness. The law gives couples many of the rights that accompany traditional marriage, including the power to decide medical treatment for an ailing partner and the right to inherit a partner's property.
Sarah Stumpf and Diana Braunshausen met through mutual friends more than six years ago. The Romeoville, Ill. couple got up early Wednesday and headed to the Will County Courthouse to file their civil union paperwork--even though the two had a wedding in October.
"We had the wedding here in Illinois, so we received no legal rights for it, but it was important for us to get up in front of our family and friends to celebrate our relationship," Stumpf said. "We had considered waiting until it was legal, but honestly we just got sick of waiting for the world to catch up to the realities of our lives."
Stumpf said she and her wife already had their dream wedding--a religious ceremony in their pagan faith on their sixth anniversary--but realized the importance of full legal rights when she was diagnosed with a brain tumor this winter.
"This is just the legal paperwork that validates a journey we started six months ago, and a journey that will continue until we win full and equal rights to the word marriage on both a state and federal level," Stumpf said. ". . . access to the legal rights to have hospital visitation, make medical decisions and the standing as a legal spouse if the worst were to happen are very present in our minds right now. We were lucky that ... doctors have always treated Diana like a spouse and respected our relationship but it will be comforting to be fully protected and not have to rely on luck."
Stumpf is making a full recovery. She and her wife will celebrate their civil union on Friday night, with an officiant and a a few friends.
Stumpf and her wife are certainly not the only Illinois couples who married or made plans to wed before the civil unions law passed--and almost all of those participating in civil union ceremonies are hoping that full marriage rights are not too far off.
Logan Square residents Seth Dodson, 29 and Viktor van Bramer, 28, have been planning their wedding for more than a year, and will marry in Chicago on June 18. Now that a civil union is possible, they plan on filling out the paperwork before their big day.
"We believe that all people should celebrate their relationships how ever they want to, regardless of state law, as a form of activism and expression of freedom," Dodson said. "However, as a community we should be strong and unrelenting in our fight for equality."
Dodson and Bramer, who met more than five years ago at Chances Dances, a queer dance party, will honeymoon in Iceland. They are considering having a legally recognized marriage there.
"We believe that legal rights are immensely important but our original plan was to define this marriage for ourselves and share our love and commitment with family and friends," Dodson said.
The Civil Rights Agenda, a statewide LGBT advocacy organization that worked hard to get the civil unions law passed, will host a mass civil union ceremony in Chicago on Friday. Forty couples will gather at the Chicago History Museum for the celebration at 5:30 p.m.
On Thursday, the City of Chicago will host another mass civil union ceremony in Wrigley Square at Millennium Park. Gov. Quinn will attend the ceremony, along with Cook County Clerk David Orr, Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County Timothy C. Evans and members of the Alliance of Illinois Judges, who will officiate the ceremonies.
“This event highlights a small sample of the many families across Illinois that are provided protections, rights, and responsibilities under Illinois’s new law,” Lambda Legal's Jim Bennet said in a statement. “Today, we congratulate the thirty couples and all those who wish to get a civil union, it’s a great day for committed same-sex couples and their children.”
Meet some more Illinois couples who are taking advantage of the new civil union law. Want to add your photo and story to our slideshow? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Logan Square residents Seth Dodson, 29, and Viktor van Bramer, 28 met a little over five years ago at Chances Dances, a queer dance party. The couple will marry in Chicago on June 18 and will pick up their civil union license before then.
Chicagoans Alicia Diaz, 32 and Tiffine Bourland, 34, met in an English class at Harold Washington College more than five years ago. The two will participate in the mass civil union ceremony at the Chicago History Museum Friday. The couple has been engaged since 2008 and were hoping that Illinois would follow Iowa in legalizing same sex marriage. They want to have the civil union to be part of history in their home state. "We are extremely proud to be a part of history, to be legally united and to be able to share this moment with other couples just like us who have been waiting. We are also extremely proud of our family. We have an amazing family. We have 3 beautiful little girls who could not be happier that their moms can finally legally be united."
Lakeview residents Erica Feliciano, 28 and Vanessa Pabon, 26, have been engaged since last June. They will take part in the mass civil union ceremony on Friday at the Chicago History Museum. "We were planning on going to Iowa, or another state that legalizes same-sex marriage, to have a wedding," Feliciano said. "When the civil union law was passed, we knew that having a ceremony here, in Chicago, was the best thing to do. We met here. Most of our family and friends are here, or live nearby. Plus, we wanted to take part in this historical event."
Romeoville residents Sarah Stumpf and Diana Braunshausen, both 28, met through mutual friends more than six years ago. Though they had a wedding ceremony in October, a civil union will give them the legal rights they need. "We don't consider this civil union our wedding," Stumpf said. "We already had our wedding, our dream wedding in fact. This is just the legal paperwork that validates a journey we started six months ago, and a journey that will continue until we win full and equal rights to the word marriage on both a state and federal level."
Pilsen residents Christopher Link and Stephen Gruhn met at Berlin on Halloween nearly 11 years ago. The couple had a committment ceremony in Australia in July of 2006, and registered as domestic partners in Cook County in September of 2006. The two will participate in the mass civil unions ceremony at the Chicago History Museum Friday. "We are both avid travelers we have seen the 7 wonders of the new world together, traveled to 6 continents together and been to over 40 countries," Link said. "This time since our ceremony is 10,000 miles closer to home, our families and closest friends can celebrate with us."
Mark Rogalski and Michael Strei planned to get married this week after obtaining Illinois' new civil union license at the McHenry County Clerk's office. The Lake in the Hills couple waited 30 years for the day to legalize their union. Read more about Rogalski and Strei's journey here. Photo by Gloria Casas, Huntley Patch
Crystal Lake residents Cynthia Thompson and Angela Gaspari already had a big church wedding--white dress and all--but headed to the McHenry County Clerk's office to make get their state rights Wednesday. They ended up with the second civil union license issued in the county. Read more about their journey here. Photo by Gloria Casas, Huntley Patch
The lobby of the McHenry County Clerk's office was crowded with six couples applying for the new license first thing Wednesday morning. Photo by Gloria Casas, Huntley Patch
A copy of the new license. Photo by Gloria Casas, Huntley Patch
Nathan Woodall and Jayson Hoss got the first license in McHenry County Wednesday morning. Photo by Gloria Casas, Huntley Patch
Lori Bergmann and Jodi Schoeck smile as they celebrate getting their license. They had a ceremony 15 years ago, but are happy Illinois is making strides toward marriage equality. Photo by Gloria Casas, Huntley Patch
Tina Lopez and Tracy Carls, of Marengo, are all set for their wedding on Friday. The license was one of the last things they needed to say "I do." Photo by Gloria Casas, Huntley Patch
Faye and Jessica have been together for 8 years and engaged for 4 years. After "impatiently" waiting for their love to be legally recognized, the couple waited in line at the Cook Country Clerk's office early Wednesday to get their civil union license. They will have a June 11 ceremony to celebrate their union.
Chicago Heights couple Marina Bassett and Zhenya Krassitchkova met almost 12 years ago at a small high school in central Illinois. Both had just transferred in: Marina from the U.K., where she lived for a couple of years and Zhenya from Russia, where she came from as an exchange student. Marina and Zhenya were frequently confused for each other, due to their (albeit completely different) accents, long blonde hair and glasses. They became great friends and stayed in touch even when Zhenya went back to Russia for two years. Throughout the years, their friendship grew into love and in 2008 they went on their first date, had their first kiss and said their first "I love you" to each other. After a blissful three years, the couple became engaged in August 2009 and had a beautiful wedding in Springfield, Illinois in January 2011. They picked up their civil union license on Wednesday. Courtesy of Orland Park Patch.