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Civil union law for same-sex couples takes effect in Illinois

PCiar(left) Kathleen McGuire were married last year Massachusetts their uniwill be legally recognized Illinois.

Pat Ciara (left) and Kathleen McGuire were married last year in Massachusetts, and their union will be legally recognized in Illinois.

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Updated: July 8, 2011 2:02PM

With 30 of their closest friends and relatives on hand, and with Chicago’s stunning skyline as a backdrop, Mary Bernas and Hiliana Leon plan to exchange vows at a June 25 commitment ceremony at the John Hancock Observatory. Then there will be a big celebration and dinner at a downtown restaurant.

But today is a big day for the New Lenox women, too. Bernas and Leon and scores of other same-sex couples across Illinois are expected to apply for civil union licenses as a new state law takes effect, bestowing on them rights already granted to married couples.

Gov. Pat Quinn signed the historic civil unions legislation into law in January, making Illinois the seventh state, along with the District of Columbia, to give same-sex couples significant legal protections. They include the power to decide medical care for an ailing partner, the right to inherit a partner’s property, get full hospital visitation rights and be considered next of kin.

Couples were expected to line up starting at 6 a.m. today outside the Daley Center in downtown Chicago, waiting to get their licenses, said Courtney Greve, a spokeswoman for Cook County Clerk David Orr.

Bernard Cherkasov, the CEO of Equality Illinois, the state’s largest gay advocacy group, expects at least 30 couples to take part in public commitment ceremonies Thursday at Chicago’s Millennium Park. Quinn also will be on hand.

A civil union is not the same as a gay marriage — which supporters think will be allowed one day — but it gives Leon, 39, and Bernas, 44, both schoolteachers, a lot less to worry about.

Bernas was planning to pay the $35 fee for a license at the Markham courthouse today in preparation for their big day. “This is one step closer to equality for gay people,” said Bernas, an English teacher at Bremen High School in Midlothian.

Pat Ciara, 63, and Kathleen McGuire, 50, of the Beverly neighborhood, were married last year in Massachusetts. That union now will be legally recognized in Illinois under an interstate reciprocity provision in the state’s new law. “My marriage to Kathleen does not affect you in any way whatsoever, and I find it appalling that there are laws they seek to put into place that are discriminatory to one class of people,” Ciara said.

Meanwhile, an opponent of the law, the Catholic diocese in Rockford, announced last week it will end its state-funded adoption and foster-care program rather than comply with the law, which would require it to place children with gay or unmarried couples.

Contributing: AP

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