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Civil Unions arrive in Illinois next month

SPRINGFIELD — Deborah Mell was auctioned off for charity at a bachelorette party about seven years ago. The Chicago Democrat "sold" for $170 to Christen Baker, the woman who would eventually become her fiancé.

By Melissa Leu

SPRINGFIELD — Deborah Mell was auctioned off for charity at a bachelorette party about seven years ago. The Chicago Democrat "sold" for $170 to Christen Baker, the woman who would eventually become her fiancé.

"It's a great first meeting isn't it? How many people have a story like that?" Mell asked.

Mell was a first-term lawmaker in the House when the 96th Illinois General Assembly made Illinois the sixth state to allow for civil unions. The law goes into effect June 1. She calls it "great timing."

"It'll be nice to finally see it as the law of the land, and see people using it and getting licenses and building a life together … It's a good day for Illinois," Mell said.

Instead of applying for a civil union in Illinois, Mell plans to get married in Iowa in September. In Illinois, however, her marriage will be counted as a civil union.

Other states that allow for state-recognized rights for same-sex couples include California, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington. Washington, D.C. also recognizes same-sex couple rights.

Civil unions, however, are not recognized under federal law, which allows states to decide if they will recognize Illinois licenses.

State Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, who pushed the measure in the House and is one of three openly gay state lawmakers, said he's been getting many emails from couples inviting him to attend their civil union ceremonies.

"I'm just looking forward to it — that thousands of couples across Illinois being able to have a very happy day and celebrating their being together now in the eyes of the law, as they've been together in the eyes of their families and churches for years," Harris said.

Many opponents of the law consider civil unions a slippery slope toward legalized gay marriage. Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont are the only states to allow gay marriage.

"It is the law of Illinois. We, of course, will abide by the law, (but) it doesn't mean we have to agree with it," said state Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Highland, who argued against the measure when it was in the House.

Similar to obtaining a marriage license, couples will apply for a license at a county clerk's office, provide identification and pay a fee, said Jackson County Clerk Larry Reinhardt.

"My understanding is that the legislators' intent was that these would mirror the procedures of the marriage license. Basically, that's what our procedures will be," Reinhardt said.

In Rock Island County, a civil union license will cost $26 — the same as a marriage license, said County Clerk John Brown. He said he expects civil unions also to be popular among heterosexual couples, especially the elderly.

"Many times there are pension plans or annuities that are in place that if (couples) are to get remarried, they might lose. So civil unions might satisfy their needs relative to their financial setup, Brown said."

Winnebago County Clerk Margie Mullins said she wouldn't be surprised if there was a line in the morning.

"I don't know what to expect," Mullins said. "It'll be an interesting day on the first."

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