Civil unions now legal in Illinois - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Civil unions now legal in Illinois

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GALENA, Ill. (KWWL) -

Two years after Iowa's Supreme Court legalized gay marriage, the law legalizing civil unions in Illinois is effective as of Wednesday.

In January, the Illinois governor signed the bill into LAW, called the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act.

Both heterosexual and homosexual couples can now enter into civil unions and take advantage of many of the benefits already granted to married couples.

In Jo Daviess County, Ill., across the Mississippi River from Dubuque, Mike Giampapa and his partner of 45 years Tony Munn went to the courthouse at 9 a.m. to apply for a civil union.

"It is not important to us being the first. It is important to us having done it," Giampapa said.

The couple didn't intend to be first, but that's exactly what happened.

Jo Daviess County clerk and recorder Jean Dimke said she was surprised when the courthouse opened at 8 a.m. and nobody was in line, but she said that might be because same-sex couples had previously gotten married in Iowa.

"Since it's, they're so close, we're on the border to Iowa, that they could go there, get married, and because of that, Illinois will recognize that marriage as a civil union," Dimke said.

She said Munn and Giampapa were happy to apply for the civil union.

"He didn't really think that he would ever see this in his lifetime," Dimke said.

"This was wonderful," Giampapa said. "The only problem I have left is the federal side. We should be allowed rights both federally and state."

"We've paid more than our share of taxes over the years, far more over the years, because we can't file joint tax returns," Munn said.

A civil union gives the couple the same medical protections as spouses.

"If something were to happen to him where I could save him with my life, I'd do it in a second," Giampapa said, sitting next to Munn on the couch in their rural Jo Daviess County home.

Illinois couples have 60 days after registering for a civil union to officially seal the deal.

"We made an appointment for tomorrow at nine, where the judge in the courthouse - the county courthouse - will, in fact, perform what they call the ceremony," Giampapa said.

After that, the couple will share the benefits and legal protections they've gone without for 45 years.

Chicago's Cook County Courthouse opened its doors at midnight to a line of both same- and opposite-sex couples waiting to apply for civil unions.

OPPOSITION to this new law includes folks with the Illinois Family Institute. They have called the law an anti-family bill and say that only heterosexual unions should be institutionalized.

Gay marriage is already illegal in Minnesota, but voters next year will get to decide if that ban should be part of the state's constitution.

The Minnesota Legislature passed a proposed constitutional amendment late last month, defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman. It will be placed on the ballot for voters in 2012. Supporters say the amendment is necessary to prevent judges or politicians from legalizing gay marriage in the future.

In Wisconsin, domestic partnerships have been recognized since august 2009, but same-sex marriages are banned.

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