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Clerks gear up for same-sex union paperwork

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

As Gov. Pat Quinn Monday signed legislation recognizing civil unions in Illinois county clerks’ offices throughout the state are planning to put the legislation into action.

Kane County Clerk Jack Cunningham called the civil union legislation the “known unknown.” Although he knows what it is and when it goes into effect, he can’t postulate how it will affect the office, he said.

“At this time, we’ve only received one phone call” about the civil union legislation, he said. “It’s hard to judge how great the impact will be.”

The law takes effect June 1, giving county registrars and county clerks a few months to get ready for handing out civil union licenses.

Cunningham said he knows that one way or another, it will be more work for his office but also will mean a few more fees and thus more money.

He said the new law will bring more responsibility to those participating. He called it a serious decision for any couple — same-sex or opposite-sex — to go into a civil union agreement because it’s not a decision that can be easily dissolved.

“It’s going to be more complex than just walking out the door,” he said.

He gave comparisons to legal issues that make the dissolution of the civil union like that of a divorce.

The civil union legislation will give gay couples many of the same legal rights as heterosexual married people, including the right to visit a sick partner in the hospital, disposition of the deceased loved one’s remains and the right to make medical decisions for their loved one.

The law also will protect the rights of religious institutions to define marriage as they choose, and will be available to any couple — same sex or opposite — in a committed relationship if they are 18 years of age or older, not in marriage or civil union currently and are not related.

For decades, the Will County clerk’s office has used pink paper for brides and blue paper for grooms who are applying for marriage licenses.

But County Clerk Nancy Schultz Voots said she’s not sure if that tradition will be changed with civil unions.

“That’s all going to have to be thought through,” she said.

DuPage County Clerk Gary A. King said the change will mean “a lot more paperwork” for his office, as well as added expenses.

King noted that DuPage has a computerized system for marriage licenses that will now have to be changed.

“They will have to write a second program” to deal with civil unions, since those are legally different than marriages, he said.

As far as filing for a civil union, he said the procedure will be similar to getting a marriage license. The forms, however, are still being put together, since civil unions don’t become legal until the summer.

Voots said she’s not sure if the document that will allow couples to enter civil unions will be called a license. Also, documenting a couple’s place of residence will be important, especially if either party is from a state that prohibits civil unions.

States which recognize civil unions include Vermont, California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Oregon, Washington and Nevada, and the District of Columbia.

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