Sarah Stumpf had her dream wedding in October 2010.
“We got married in October. We got married in a relatively small, private religious ceremony,” she said. “Our first wedding was perfect.”
On Friday, she'll get enter another union, not to renew the vows she already made, but to get the legal rights and protections that married couples enjoy. Stumpf and her wife, Diana Braunshausen, of Romeoville, will enter into a civil union this week as Sarah and Diana Stausen (a combination of their last names).
The Will County Clerk’s Office will begin issuing civil union licenses Wednesday, providing the legal rights and benefits that married couples have.
On Jan. 31, Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act, which recognizes same-sex unions. With the new legislation, Illinois became the sixth state to allow civil unions. The law goes into effect today, and licenses are available for same-sex and heterosexual couples at least 18 years of age.
“Were going to the courthouse as soon as (a license) becomes available,” Stumpf said.
The couple said they already consider themselves married, as do all their family and friends. However, without the paperwork of a civil union, the state does not. Although a civil union is not marriage, it provides many of the same benefits, rights and obligations that come with tying the knot. That includes, among other things, hospital visitation rights, the ability to file joint tax returns and some workplace benefits.
A couple months after their October 2010 wedding, Stumpf had surgery for a brain tumor. Braunshausen was by her side through the whole ordeal.
“We were able to through power of attorney documents make most of that work,” Stumpf said. “Northwestern wrote 'married' on all of our forms.”
The problem is, without a civil union, powers of attorney can only go so far. If something had gone wrong, Braunshausen would have had no legal rights to sue. She said she's looking forward to having those protections.
“It’s nice because it won’t be up to the individual discretion of the doctor or the hospital,” she said.
'Step in the right direction'
The Rev. Sandy Costa, of Joliet, will be performing a civil union ceremony for the Stausens on Friday. She has been performing ceremonies for gay couples for some time, even though they have not been legally recognized unions. She, too, is excited about the change in Will County.
“It was absolutely necessary that Illinois catch up with the rest of the progressive states and start offering civil unions to gay couples, because it is the only logical and fair and reasonable thing to do,” Costa said. “They’re already forming unions they’re are already commitment ceremonies being performed all over the country.”
Such was the case for the Stausens.
“It was really important to us not to wait to have our (wedding),” Stumpf said. “If we wait for the rest of the world to catch up to gay marriage to where we are, we would be waiting forever.”
Costa is not alone in having performed ceremonies for gay couples who were in love but could not legally marry. And even though a civil union is still not recognized as a marriage—nor is it recognized outside of the county in which the license is granted—Romeoville Pastor Suzanne Anderson-Hurdle is thrilled about the legal change in Illinois.
Last year, she testified before the Illinois House of Representatives, urging legislators to pass a bill to make civil unions a reality.
“It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s not the end," Anderson-Hurdle said last week, calling the advent of civil unions in Illinois a good start toward granting marriage equality to gays and lesbians. “It’s America. We should all have the same rights, gay or straight.”
And the Stausens agree that this something to be excited about, but the fight for equality isn't over.
"This isn’t the end of this—we're really excited, but we're going to keep fighting for the word marriage and we're going to fight for federal benefits,” Stumpf said.
Getting a license
Licenses will be issued at the clerk’s office, 302 N. Chicago St. in Joliet, as well as its three branch offices in Bolingbrook, Crete and Plainfield. By law, couples must wait until the day after they obtain their license to have their civil union ceremony performed, so June 2 is the first day ceremonies may be held.
A license is valid for 60 days following the issue date. Ceremonies may be held at the Will County Courthouse, 14 W. Jefferson St. in Joliet.
Applicants must bring two proofs of age, with one being a copy of a birth certificate or a passport. An affidavit must also be signed stating that you’re not prohibited from entering into a civil union by the laws of where you live. Civil union licenses are only valid in the county in which they’re issued.
The fee for the license is $4 and must be paid in cash. Will County Deputy Clerk Judy Wiedmeyer said that amount was determined because it’s the charge for any non-marriage license, and that the state didn’t set a civil union license fee, though that could change.
In celebration of the first day of civil union ceremonies, the city of Chicago's Commission on Human Relations' Advisory Council on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues will host 30 civil union ceremonies at 10 a.m. in Millennium Park. Quinn is scheduled to attend, and Anderson-Hurdle said she will be one of several pastors there to bless couples' unions.
She will be one of several pastors offering a blessing and signing civil union certificates as couples are joined as part of “Unite with Pride: A Community Celebration.”
While the law allows couples to be joined in a civil ceremony, the June 3 event will allow couples to take part in a mass blessing, or, if they choose, an individual blessing.
“Some people really want God’s blessing on (their union),” she said. “That’s why they want us there … It’s not just about the rights—it’s about having their relationship recognized.”
For more information on civil unions, go to the Will County Clerk’s website or see the PDF attached to this article.
Editor's Note — New Lenox Patch Editor Michael Sewall also contributed to this article.