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First Day of Civil Union Licenses in Illinois

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Today being June 1, 2011, Illinois gay and lesbian couples, for the first time, can now apply for civil union licenses.

Hundreds of couples throughout the state decided to do just that today, waiting not one day longer for the state government to legally recognize their loving and committed relationships.

One couple in the Chicago area - Janean Watkins and Lakeesha Harris - was so eager to be the first in line for a civil union license that they camped overnight outside the Daley Center.

"It's historic," said Watkins, who has been in a relationship with Harris for 10 years.  "We wanted to be first.  We wanted to make a statement.  For us, for our kids.  It really means something."

What it means is that gay and lesbian couples will now have access to crucial protections that were previously denied them, such as emergency medical decision making, hospital visitation, inheritance and others.

On November 30, 2010, the Illinois House voted 61-52 in favor of civil unions for gay and lesbian couples.  The next day, the Illinois Senate passed the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act with a vote of 32 to 24.  Gov. Pat Quinn signed the bill into law on January 31, 2011.

At an unrelated event today, Gov. Quinn applauded the law.

"I signed that law, and I think it's a good law," Quinn said.  "I think it makes us a better state.  I think it's important that Illinois be a place of tolerance and welcoming to all."

Couples are able to obtain civil union licenses today, but must wait until tomorrow before holding a ceremony.

Tomorrow, Gov. Quinn and Mayor Rahm Emanuel will be in Chicago's Millennium Park as more than 30 couples enter into civil unions.  At least another 30 couples will gather on Friday at the Chicago History Museum to celebrate their unions at a ceremony being hosted by The Civil Rights Agenda.

GLAAD encourages the media to report on the significance of what civil unions will mean for the loving and committed gay and lesbian couples in Illinois whose relationships have gone unrecognized by the state until now.  At the same time, we congratulate our colleagues at Equality Illinois on this historic moment in the movement for equality, and we thank all those individuals and lawmakers who worked tirelessly to see this day come to fruition.  Congratulations, all!