From WILL - News Headlines -

Civil Unions Soon to Become Law in Illinois

Same-sex couples in Illinois can start obtaining civil union licenses Wednesday, June 1.

The Champaign County Clerk's office says it will be fully staffed to issue the licenses, which will cost four dollars. Kevin Johnson of the Up Center of Champaign County said he is planning a large gathering at the clerk's office when the civil union law goes into effect.

"You know, a lot of people feel it's not truly equal because it is not marriage," Johnson said. "However, for many of us, it is the first step of being recognized by the government as couples."

Couples are required to get the license from the county clerk's office in the area where the ceremony takes place. Both people in a relationship have to show up to get the license. Johnson estimates anywhere between 20-to-30 people will immediately get the licenses in Champaign County on Wednesday.

Similar to getting a marriage license, couples must have a valid form of ID and be ready to answer basic questions like parent's names. Couples are encouraged to call their county clerk's office if they have questions about civil unions. They cannot take part in a ceremony until the day after the license is issued. They also have 60 days to use that license or it expires.

Kathie Spegal, 67, of Champaign has been with her partner, Lynn Sprout, since 2002, and she said she never thought she would live to see the day when civil unions would be legal in Illinois.

"It's not going to change how we live," Spegal said. "We still pay taxes. We still do everything that we've always done. It's just that we know how that it's all legal."

Spegal said her civil union ceremony will take place at McKinley Memorial Presbyterian Church, where he exchanged vows with her partner as part of a "holy union" in 2004.

But churches can opt out of performing civil unions, according to Bernard Cherkasov, president of the group Equality Illinois.

"No religious institution will be required to officiate or perform civil unions," Cherkasov explained. "But every agency performing state functions - accepting public funds to perform that function - will be required to comply with all existing laws and statutes, including respecting the civil unions law."

Civil unions share many of the rights that accompany traditional marriage, including the power to make medical decisions for a partner and being able to share insurance policies. In order to get insurance benefits, a couple must obtain a separate document from the county clerk proving the civil union happened.

When the law takes effect, Illinois will become the sixth state in the United States to allow for some form of civil unions for gay and lesbian couples.

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