Illinois' civil-union law came into force June 1. Couples lined up early in the morning at the county clerk's office in Chicago to pick up paperwork. Then, by law, they had to wait one day before tying the knot.
The following morning, 35 couples got hitched at ceremonies in Millennium Park in The Loop. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Pat Quinn attended the celebration.
"To be here not protesting, here in the sunlight in Millennium Park in front of the mayor and governor, it really is remarkable," veteran Chicago activist Arthur Johnston told Windy City Times.
Johnston co-founded Equality Illinois, which lobbied for the civil-union bill in the state Legislature in Springfield. He tied the knot with his partner of 38 years, José (Pepe) Peña. The couple are owners of the popular Boystown bar Sidetrack.
"This is one of the most important bills that has been passed in anyone's memory," Gov. Quinn told the couples and several hundred spectators.
The Illinois law grants civil-union couples all the state-level rights and obligations that married people have. It also recognizes same-sex marriages and civil unions from anywhere else in the world as an Illinois civil union.
Interestingly, such recognition could have a downside for some people.
Jill Metz, board president at the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, warned in an online posting: "If you married or civil unioned a person with whom you are now no longer in a relationship and you have not legally dissolved the relationship, please be aware that, as of June 1, 2011, you are civilly unioned in Illinois and our domestic-relation laws apply to you. In other words, as of June 1, you may have marital property and obligations for maintenance with this other person. You need to file for a divorce!"
Some anti-gay activists said they hope to repeal the civil-union law. Longtime activist Peter LaBarbera said "homosexual behavior is always wrong" and "homosexuality-based 'rights' and religious freedom cannot co-exist."
Same-sex marriage is legal in Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Washington, D.C. Same-sex marriages from elsewhere are recognized as marriages in Maryland, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island and California (if the marriage took place before Proposition 8 passed).
Eleven other nations allow same-sex couples to marry -- Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden and Mexico (where same-sex marriages are allowed only in the capital city but are recognized nationwide).
U.S. states with civil-union laws that grant all state-level marriage rights are California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington. Four other states have gay-union laws that extend some rights of marriage: Colorado, Maine, Maryland and Wisconsin.
The situation in California is noteworthy. Same-sex marriage was legal from June to November 2008, when voters amended the state constitution via Proposition 8 to put a stop to it. The couples who married then are still legally married, as are other same-sex couples who live in California and got married anywhere in the world before Prop 8 passed. Gay couples who married somewhere else after Prop 8 passed, or who marry elsewhere in the future, receive every state-level right and obligation of marriage in California except for the legal right to call their marriage a "marriage" when they are in California. They are not recognized under the state's domestic-partnership law, but rather are married couples who are denied use of the word "marriage."