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Same-sex couples unite in Millennium Park ceremonies

The happy couples kiss before 'Unions Park' cities celebratifirst day civil unions Illinois officiated by volunteer judges. Thursday June 02

The happy couples kiss before the 'Unions in the Park', the cities celebration of the first day of civil unions in Illinois, officiated by volunteer judges. Thursday, June 02, 2011 | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: July 8, 2011 2:46PM

A few minutes before saying “I do,” Shanelle Moffett and Tenisha Watkins of Maywood reflected on the perfect 60-degree morning that served as the backdrop for the historic commitment they were about to make — with Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and Mayor Rahm Emanuel as guests.

The women were among the 33 same-sex couples who gathered Thursday in Millennium Park for commitment ceremonies on the first day civil unions were allowed in Illinois.

“For me it means a lot — making this commitment. But I also feel like we’re part of history here — not a lot of states allow same-sex marriages,” Moffett, 38, said as the Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus sang nearby.

Several Cook County Circuit Court judges — and one minister — volunteered to preside over the individual ceremonies Thursday at the northwest corner of the park along Michigan Avenue. Wednesday was the first day the couples could get civil union licenses from the Cook County clerk’s office, but the law required a 24-hour wait before a service could take place.

Quinn signed the 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, full hospital visitation rights and the right to be considered next of kin.

Moffett, dressed in a three-piece suit with a shirt that matched the electric blue of her partner Watkins’ strapless dress, smiled as the couple took turns introducing the dozen family and friends who gathered to celebrate in the park, the Chicago skyline soaring behind them.

The two met on Facebook a year ago — a love of the game FarmVille drew them together and a romance soon blossomed. They have been almost inseparable ever since.

Pre-ceremony jitters? Not so much. But in the hectic rush to hop on the Blue Line train and get downtown in time for the 9 a.m. check-in, one key item was left behind.

“She forget her vows on the kitchen table,” Watkins said.

At the event, Quinn told the crowd, “All of us in the Land of Lincoln can celebrate. We believe everybody’s in and nobody’s left out in our state. Everybody is important. There’s all kinds of families in Illinois, but we are the family of Illinois, and we understand and love one another. We understand that it is very, very important to have civil rights and civil unions. And that’s why we’re here today.”

And the divorced governor offered some Biblical advice from Corinthians: “For those coming together in a civil union on this special day, I just have to say one thing: ‘Love is patient, love is kind, love never fails,’ ” he said to cheers.

Emanuel lauded the governor.

“Thank you for what you’ve done for the people of the city of Chicago, the people of the state of Illinois and for the rest of the country to see progressive leadership,” he said.

The mayor, married with three children, told the couples the were embarking on a “journey.”

“Looking out to everybody here, I think I can say this as a veteran of marriage, it [has] been a long journey here and to all those who are about to get married and join in civil union you have a fruitful journey going forward,” Emanuel said. “You have our blessings.”

Other politicians on hand included Chicago Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) and state Representatives Deborah Mell and Kelly Cassidy — all openly gay. Laura Ricketts, openly gay and who along with her brothers own the Chicago Cubs, also was at the event. She hugged Quinn and asked to take a photo with him.

As for Moffett and Watkins, after exchanging their vows, they headed over to the Chicago Cultural Center for a private reception tied to Thursday’s event.

But the festivities won’t end there.

“Tonight, we plan to party,’’ Moffett said. Friends will gather for food, drinks and a homemade “wedding’’ cake that Watkins baked.

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