Illinois Civil Unions Begin, There Is Much Rejoicing (Mostly)

Today marks the first day that same-sex couples in Illinois can finally be civilly united in the sight of the state government. It’s a huge milestone for a lot of individual families, as well as for the Midwest as a whole. Achieving the right to civil unions meant overcoming some serious opposition, and that controversy still remains. But for the most part, this is a day of celebration, and for the most part people are celebrating.

Frank Barcellos and Robby Davison have been together for 16 years and even had a commitment ceremony, but today is the first day the state of Illinois recognized them as a couple.

“I think it’s wonderful thought I’d never see it here, especially in the Midwest.”

The couple was the sixth to receive their license in Winnebago county. They say they can’t wait to start sharing the benefits.


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They aren’t without opposition; plenty of people are still holding out for legal marriage, and civil unions still feel like a weak compromise. And then there’s the traditional opponents, the anti-gay “family values” conservatives. For instance, David Smith of the Illinois Family Institute says that civil unions are “anti-family:”

“The government has no reason to provide affirmation or benefits to relationships that do not serve the public good; and relationships based on same-sex attraction and volitional homosexual acts do not per se serve the public good. Lawmakers should be looking at ways to strengthen the natural family, not undermine it,”

And the Catholic Charities of Rockford, at least, have chosen to give up their state-funded status to pre-emptively avoid the possibility of ever being legally obligated to place an orphaned child in a home with gay parents who have been civilly united. It’s unclear whether this was actually a real possibility, or just an unsubstantiated fear, like the anxiety that socially conservative churches or religious communities will be forced to provide religious weddings to gay couples. On Top Magazine reports that “the charity services 11 counties and its decision could displace the 350 foster children it serves and leave 58 employees out of work.”

But despite the opposition, civil unions in Illinois are now a fact of law and of life, and couples all over the state lined up with pride and joy to finally get the recognition from their government that they have been waiting for seemingly endlessly. And the media seems to happy for them; there are plenty of stories about the very first license in each county. Because really, isn’t theirs the story that it’s important to tell? People like Tamara Vowell and Teri Schenk?

“She’s my best friend. She’s the only person I want to be with,” Schenk said. “She’s the one I want to spend the rest of my life with.”

Rachel is Autostraddle's Managing Editor and the editor who presides over news & politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

Rachel has written 1133 articles for us.

12 Comments

    • hm. i hadn’t thought about that possibility. i would imagine not, though, since i think in most cases civil unions are meant to be a separate entity from marriage. heterosexual couples can also get civil unions instead of getting married, so a civil union is not just the gay version of a marriage. so, i would think that a gay civilly united couple would have to go through the steps of getting married if it became legal.

      i am not an expert on any of the topics touched on here though.

  1. I knew something was up when Facebook feed filled with tons of excited updates about this happening. (I didn’t realize so many of my friends were natives of Illinois, to be honest.) I think it’s great news. The story of the lesbian couple who came every Valentine’s Day to the clerk’s office to ask for a marriage license and got turned away every year finally got an answer other than no — they could get a civil union. Yes, it’s not full marriage, but it’s good news. I’m pretty young (in my 20s) and a long way off from marriage or being in a 10-year relationship — but seeing and hearing the stories of these old people that have been together forever finally being recognized by the state… it’s just really sweet. Yay.

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