George Burns and Tom Stark have been together for eight years.
The gregarious Burns, 28, and the quieter Stark, 31, met while studying at Illinois State University. They live together in Plano. Almost exactly four years ago, they decided to get married. They held a ceremony and pledged their love and devotion to one another.
The only problem? In the eyes of the law, they had no rights as partners. That is until Thursday morning, when Burns and Stark became the first gay couple to have their union blessed by a Kendall County judge.
Thursday was the first day civil union ceremonies were performed across the state. Gov. Pat Quinn , and Wednesday was the first day that . The law allows for unions of same-sex couples and would grant them many of the same rights as married couples.
With a grin, Burns summed up his thoughts on the new law: “It’s about time.”
“I’m happy we can finally do it,” he said. “There’s a lot of rights that will be given to us now.”
These rights include being able to visit a partner in the hospital, to make emergency medical decisions for partners, to adopt children, to see pension benefits and inheritance rights, to share a room in a nursing home and to dispose of a partner’s remains.
Though civil union licenses were handed out Wednesday to six couples at the Kendall County Clerk’s Office, ceremonies cannot legally be performed until the day after the license is issued. That’s why Burns, Stark and their families made the trip to the courthouse in Yorkville on Thursday morning.
The pair was called into the courtroom shortly after 10:30 a.m., and stood before Judge Ronald Matekaitis. They exchanged rings, took vows and ended with a kiss. But for some of the terms used—“civil partner,” “commit to this union”—the proceedings were indistinguishable from a marriage ceremony.
In fact, Burns and Stark plan to keep on calling themselves married.
“We have for four years,” Burns said.
The Kendall County Clerk’s Office provides civil union licenses from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Applicants must be 18, must both apply in person, must present a photo ID, and pay $35. The license becomes effective one day after it is issued, and is good for 60 days, according to the county clerk’s website.