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Gay couples celebrate Illinois civil unions with hugs, tears and cheers

Jamie Gayle RobPetrovic embrace as Cook County issues them civil unilicense Cook County Clerk’s office. | John H. White~Sun-Times

Jamie Gayle and Robin Petrovic embrace as Cook County issues them a civil union license at the Cook County Clerk’s office. | John H. White~Sun-Times

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Updated: September 11, 2011 12:22AM

They met as 8-year-old girls playing on the same Oak Park softball team, and again at a friend’s wedding in their early 20s.

Meta Kroker and Joy Christopher have been together ever since.

Wednesday morning, Kroker and Christopher stood in line with 74 other gay and lesbian couples at the Cook County Clerk’s office on the day Illinois’ new law allowing civil unions took effect.

There were cheers, applause, hugs and tears — even though the couples were there only to pick up their licenses. Under the state’s Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act, the unions cannot take place until today, when dozens of people are expected to participate in a mass ceremony in Millennium Park.

“I’m overwhelmed,” said Kroker, 34, a travel agent. “I started crying, because the person behind the clerk’s counter also started crying after the first license was processed. It’s all very emotional.”

And for some, Wednesday was a reminder of what gay couples in Illinois can’t have.

‘Some sort of justice’

The law that took effect Wednesday allows civil unions, not marriages, among same-sex couples, though it also recognizes same-sex marriages performed in other states.

Illinois now is among six states that allow same-sex couples benefits similar to those granted married couples.

Many couples in line to obtain a license said they look forward to Illinois one day joining five other states and Washington, D.C., in allowing same-sex marriage, as well.

“We’ve been ostracized and relegated to the bottom rung of society,” said Lakeesha Harris, 36, of Chicago, who stood in line with her partner, Janean Watkins. “I feel like this is some sort of justice for us, for our family. I’m so grateful. I’m so thankful.”

Cook County officials processed 203 licenses Wednesday, according to WMAQ-Channel 5.

In Will County, the clerk’s office said at least 17 licenses were issued there. Couples laughed and took pictures, excited to take what 28-year-old Diana Braunshausen called “a grateful step.”

Braunshausen and Sarah Stumpf, 28, said they moved to Romeoville from Bloomington, Ind., partly because they had heard civil unions might become legal there.

Gov. Pat Quinn said Wednesday that the new law makes Illinois “a place of tolerance and welcoming to all.”

Quinn plans to attend the ceremony today at Millennium Park.

Contributing: Sun-Times Media and the Associated Press

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