06/14/2011 09:54 am ET | Updated Aug 14, 2011

Openly Gay Alderman James Cappleman To Get A Civil Union

The second openly gay alderman in Chicago's history is taking advantage of Illinois's new civil unions law to recognize his 19-year-long relationship with his partner.

James Cappleman of the 46th Ward will be married to his longtime partner Richard Thale some time in the fall, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. He will be the first elected official in Chicago to take advantage of the law, and he told the paper that he felt it was a critical symbolic gesture.

“It’s important as a gay couple, that if we really want to promote same-sex marriage and have society see it as not that different from other relationships, we’re going to be out about it,” Cappleman said to the Sun-Times. “Anything to do to promote more equality in the city and the country, we’re going to push for it.”

In 2003, Alderman Tom Tunney was elected the first openly gay alderman in the city's history, coming out of the 44th Ward, an area with some 10,000 gay residents. The 46th Ward, which Cappleman represents, has a much smaller gay population.

His battle for the aldermanic seat against Molly Phelan was hotly contested and hard-fought: in the first round of voting in February, the two were separated by only five votes.

Phelan portrayed Cappleman -- who wanted to use some of the ward's funds for streetscaping -- as soft on crime, saying that he was more interested in "decorator flower pots" than in fighting crime. Many saw a veiled homophobia in this and other remarks from the Phelan camp, although Cappleman always pointedly avoided the charge.

Civil unions in Illinois have been legal since June 1, thanks to a law that passed last winter. They provide couples the full rights of marriage, but only at the state level, thanks to the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits their recognition.

Other Chicago officials, including Department of Human Relations Commissioner Mona Noriega and David Spielfogel, Mayor Emanuel's chief of policy and strategic planning, celebrated civil unions with their partners earlier this month.