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3 June 2011, 2:00 pm No Comments

Civil Unions in Illinois

This post was submitted by Ben K.

This week marked an historic moment for civil rights in Illinois, and another step closer to legal equality for the LGBT community in the United States. On Wednesday, June 1, civil unions for partners of the same sex became legal in Illinois (including the option for couples of the opposite sex, as well). It became legal for couples to apply for their licenses on Wednesday, and after a 24-hour waiting period, they were able to have their civil union ceremonies.

There have no doubt been setbacks and knockdowns for the LGBT rights movement, but what I witnessed yesterday was definitely a glass half-full moment. Thursday in downtown Chicago, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and newly-elected mayor Rahm Emmanuel attended the civil unions of 36 couples on a beautiful Windy City morning.

I had the great opportunity to see both the signing of this bill earlier in the year and this mass civil union ceremony presided over by five judges, with the couples having their ceremonies in waves. The most touching part was the number of people who lined up around the gates of the Park, complete strangers, gay and straight, of all ages and types there to cheer on the couples. Yes, there were the requisite protesters, but in a number I could count on one hand, and they were the ones who seemed out of place among so much love and joy.

I share the opinion of many that it is not until full marriage equality, and not just civil unions, is a right across this country that there will there be equality in terms of legal recognitions of same-sex partnerships. And yes, I also agree that it is unfair to classify these unions under a different name than marriage, and sets them on a level that is still unequal with opposite-sex unions. But nonetheless, I believe that every step toward equality is valid and provides hope. An all-or-nothing attitude will lead to nothing but little accomplishment, and for me to stand up and say that I think that we should accept nothing but full marriage equality continues to deny the practical reasons that many couples, right now and today, want to not only validate their love with a form of recognition by their government, but also for the very real legal protections and realities that it provides for them.

No one wants to be treated like a second-class citizen, and not calling these unions marriage is unfair, but it is a move in the right direction. These steps in the right direction, one at a time, further the movement towards full acceptance and equality in all realms. For the first time in the history of its polling on same-sex marriage, the majority of Americans are in favor of such unions. The chart that shows the change in opinion is extraordinary to look at.

Yes, there may be more setbacks, but I really believe that we come closer and closer to a recognition that is only right and fair. One day (I pray sooner than later), marriage equality will be the law of the land, but until then, gains like the one I witnessed this week are a welcome sign of a hopeful future.

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