CHICAGO More than 100 same-sex couples lined up outside of a Chicago municipal building Wednesday morning to obtain licenses for civil unions, under a new Illinois law.
The atmosphere was festive, with license-seekers taking pictures of each other, and city workers waving and calling out "congratulations."
"There will be no more of that awkward question, 'Are you married?'" said Juan Acevedo, 49, standing with his partner of 19 years, Marius Karrer. "Now I can say, 'Yes, I am.'"
Couples can have a civil union ceremony one day after receiving their licenses. A mass ceremony with 32 couples will be held at Millennium Park, Thursday morning, with Governor Pat Quinn attending.
The Illinois law gives same-sex couples the same rights, benefits and responsibilities of married couples under Illinois law, including rights of hospital visitation and shared parental rights, explained Christopher Clark, senior staff attorney for the gay rights law group Lambda Legal. The new rights do not include those provided married couples under federal law, such as receipt of a partner's Social Security benefits.
"This is an important step on our march to equality," said Clark. "Federal law has to change."
Illinois is one of four states with a civil union law for same-sex couples, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Another five states and the District of Columbia issue marriage licenses for same sex couples, NCSL said. California had issued licenses, but Proposition 8 amended the constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman. A federal judge found the same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional, a decision which is now being appealed.
The Illinois law recognizes unions performed in other jurisdictions.
An anti-gay group, Americans for Truth about Homosexuality, called Quinn's planned presence at Thursday's ceremony "an act of hubris and defiance toward the Creator," in a statement Wednesday.
Jaime G. Garcia, 46 and Daryl Rizzo, 49, came to get their license along with their daughter Siena, 3. Rizzo said the new law "makes us feel more secure." They will be among the couples participating in Thursday's ceremony.
"It's amazing to see the progress," said Rizzo." He noted that 30 years ago, "you didn't come out in high school. Now people can be more open and more comfortable... What was an issue becomes a non-issue."
Gabrielle Novacek, 35, and her partner Nicole Montanye, 39. are planning a joint ceremony Sunday with their friends, Acevedo and Karrer.
Novacek said she doesn't understand why anyone would object to civil unions. "If you feel threatened by us, that's really unfortunate," Novacek said. "You're the one that has a problem."
(Editing by Greg McCune)