BLOOMINGTON — As Springfield lawmakers took another step toward legalizing gay marriage last week, Central Illinois couples who stand to benefit are waiting to see if it becomes law and what it will mean, while local officials are wondering how they’ll accommodate an expected surge in licenses.
Illinois legalized civil unions for both same-sex and opposite-sex couples in 2011, essentially creating a marriage-like legal standing for same-sex couples. Activists said it was not the same and pushed for full marriage equality for same-sex couples, an effort that came closer to success when an Illinois House committee approved a Senate version of a bill to legalize it.
Among those voicing support of the bill is Levi Sturgeon, 28, of Bloomington, who entered into a civil union with his long-time partner Carl Olson, 37. Sturgeon said both were ecstatic over the state’s legalization of civil unions, but called the arrangement “separate but equal.”
He expects a contentious vote in Springfield, but hopes Democrats and Republicans can unite on the issue. In the Senate, Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, was the only Republican to vote “yes” on Senate Bill 10, the same-sex marriage law awaiting a vote on the House floor.
“I’m still hoping to see success,” Sturgeon said. “I would really like to see the parties joined together and pass this as a group. Republicans can very well support their same platforms, I believe, and support equality.”
Melle Hany, 31, of Bloomington, is in a civil union with her partner, Brittany May, 29, and also has been vocal in her support of legalizing same-sex marriage. A nurse practitioner and mother of an 11-year-old girl, she said “getting civilized” will never have the same standing as “getting married,” and calling May her “partner” can never be as meaningful as calling May her “wife.” It affects her daughter’s perception of the relationship, too, said Hany.
“I think it’s, for (my daughter), to show that gay marriage is a valid relationship,” Hany said. “It’s the validity of having a wife.”
One concern Sturgeon expressed is whether his civil union may need to be dissolved in order to enter into marriage if it becomes law. The legislation references “converting” to marriage for those in civil unions.
“My wish would be that we would just … our civil union would automatically evolve into a marriage, if we chose to,” Sturgeon said. “Do I have to go to the court and dissolve my civil union in order to get married? That is not the intent.”
The bill provides for couples in civil unions to get marriage licenses free of charge. Macon County Clerk Steve Bean explained it would only affect couples in civil unions who choose to change over.
“From what we understand, there will be no additional cost to the couple and the counties will bear any additional costs that occur,” Bean said. “That’s an option — you don’t have to switch it over if you don’t want to.”
As of last week, McLean County Clerk Kathy Michael said her office hadn’t received a clear explanation of what procedures county officials would use in changing over those who come in for a marriage license.
“I don’t know how we’re going to enter (those licenses) into our software, how we’re going to code it, or what that process is,” Michael said. “I’m surprised they haven’t said, ‘This is what’s going to happen when it passes.’ ”
McLean County had issued 109 civil union licenses as of the end of January. Michael said if the bill passes, she expects a boom that will likely keep her staff busier for a while.
“I’ve alerted the staff, because with civil unions, we had a rush of excited couples coming in,” Michael said. “I’ve said, ‘Be ready for when this passes.’ ”
In Macon County, the number of civil unions has been lower, 54, though Bean thinks many couples could be waiting for gay marriage to be legalized.