If gay marriages become legal in Illinois, couples who already have civil unions will have a head start in the application process.
According to the proposed law, couples who are part of a civil union can apply for a marriage license and have that marriage solemnized in a ceremony, with the normal marriage license fee waived.
And in the first year following approval of the legislation, couples could get their civil union legally designated and recorded as a marriage, per the law. The marriage would be "deemed effective on the date of solemnization of the civil union, without the payment of any fee."
Civil unions -- which provide many, but not all, of the same legal rights and benefits as marriage, including the ability to file joint tax returns -- would continue to remain an option for gay and straight couples in Illinois. The process for civil unions, which require a fee as a marriage license does, would remain unchanged.
Marriage in the state is currently defined as between one man and one woman.
The proposed law expanding that definition of marriage to couples of the same sex passed out of the state Senate last Thursday by a 34-21 vote. It still faces a vote in the Illinois House.
While the cost of a marriage license is nominal -- it varies by county -- suburban gay couples say the gesture of waiving the fee is meaningful to them nonetheless, after previously applying and paying for civil union applications.
"I'm really happy there's no cost or red tape associated," said David Foxx of Carpentersville. "The thought of anybody going to charge us again wasn't sitting well with me."
David and his partner, Conrad, obtained a civil union on June 24, 2011, after an 11-year relationship. While Foxx said they will be among the first in line to apply for a marriage license, should it become possible, he also acknowledged that they likely won't plan an elaborate wedding. Instead, they'd take part in a simple courthouse ceremony.
"We did have a big ceremony for our civil union," he said. "This time, it'll be far better just to say show up at our house. and for us to say, 'We're having a party.'"
If gay marriage is approved, Illinois would become the 10th state to allow same-sex marriages, which are also legal in the District of Columbia. If Illinois couples have been married in another state, legislation sponsor Greg Harris said, their marriage license will be automatically recognized in Illinois, but they have the option of applying for a separate Illinois license.
Cook County Clerk David Orr's office is prepared to offer marriages to same-sex couples. Orr spokeswoman Courtney Greve said that after lawmakers approved civil unions, the office set up a way that would make it easy to transition to gay marriages.
"We could start issuing licenses to gay couples tomorrow, and would happily do so," Greve said.