By Mary J. Cristobal and Diane Lee Illinois Statehouse News
SPRINGFIELD – Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation into law Monday that creates civil unions for both gay and straight couples beginning June 1, but local counties are still waiting on state guidelines.
Lawmakers approved the legislation in November.
Opponents called it as a step toward gay marriage, while supporters argued it would provide rights to both gay and unmarried heterosexual couples such as when a partner is hospitalized or dies.
The Illinois Department of Health is charged with developing applications for civil unions, which will be similar to marriage licenses and obtained through county clerks, according to spokeswoman Melaney Arnold.
Jackson County Clerk Larry W. Reinhardt said the counties are still waiting for direction from the state.
“At a county level we’re sort of on hold, waiting on them to finalize what they’re doing,” Reinhardt said. “What they indicated to us: after the bill is signed today, they will get with the bill’s sponsors, show them what they have – what they are proposing – as far as applications, and the actual license, and the different paperwork, different guidelines, and make sure everybody is on the same page. Then they will provide all of that information to us at the counties – the local level.”
County clerks anticipate the civil union process will be similar to obtaining a marriage license.
“I don’t envision it as significant difference in terms of the layout of the form,” said John Brown, chief deputy for Rock Island County Clerk Karen Kinney. “Like I said there will be some verbiage changing – moving husband and wife to spouse or whatever generic language they use.”
The application will be a standardized form for every county once it’s finalized, according to the Department of Public Health.
But county officials are expecting an initial surge of couples seeking a civil union once June 1 hits.
“Winnebago is a larger community, and they do have a very large gay community here in Illinois,” said Winnebago County Clerk Margie M. Mullins. “And I look to see that it is going to be exercised maybe more in the beginning – it might taper off a little. But it’ll be interesting to watch that also and see how it’s perceived within the community.”
Illinois is the sixth state to recognize civil unions, giving everyone a “right” they should have regardless of their partner’s gender, said Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.
Although the "Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act" grants spousal rights to same-sex couples as allowed under Illinois law, it does not legalize same-sex marriage since state law defines marriage as taking place between one man and one woman.
However, those rights may not be portable and may not hold up in another state that doesn’t recognize Illinois’ civil unions.