Wedding plans are in works

Wedding plans are in works

Champaign County clerk to open office on June 1, even though it's a Sunday

CHAMPAIGN — Lynn Sprout and Kathie Spegal never thought it would happen in their lifetimes.

First they thought that about their holy union a decade ago. Then their civil union in 2011. Next year, the same-sex couple will have the chance to get married the same as everyone else.

"We never thought it would happen in our lifetime," Spegal said. "It's great. That should have happened. Now everything's legitimate."

The two have been together for 12 years, but until they get married, they say not everyone sees it that way. With Gov. Pat Quinn expected to sign the bill soon, the Illinois Legislature's decision on same-sex marriage this week will ensure their rights when the law goes into effect next year, they said.

For them, it's about security. Before Spegal, Sprout had eight kids with a partner of 18 years. Her partner got sick.

"I was told numerous times at the hospital that she was not my family," Sprout said. "I couldn't stay with her; I had no information about her care."

Her partner eventually died, and Sprout was on her own. She lost her job at Carle Foundation Hospital after being denied family leave to care for her sick partner, and she was not recognized as one of her partner's survivors in a News-Gazette obituary.

"I could not be part of her funeral arrangements, her retirement, her Social Security," Sprout said. "I needed that to help support eight kids."

Sprout and Spegal haven't talked about a date yet, but Spegal thinks they will get married quickly after the law goes into effect June 1, 2014. "Within 24 hours," she said.

With that, the couple looks forward to avoiding a repeat of what Sprout went through with her earlier partner.

"That can't happen again," Sprout said. "I will be family in everyone's eyes."

The historic move toward legalizing same-sex marriage in Illinois came Tuesday, when the Illinois House of Representatives passed Senate Bill 10 by a single vote. The state Senate quickly followed, and the legislation now awaits the approval of Gov. Pat Quinn, who said he will sign the bill this month.

Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten said preparing for same-sex marriages to begin on June 1, 2014, will take very little work in his office, and he expects no problems. June 1 is a Sunday, but Hulten said his office will be open anyway.

The county clerk is already responsible for licensing marriages, and doing that for same-sex couples will be no different, Hulten said.

"My understanding of the spirit of the law is that they want same-sex marriages to be treated as marriages," Hulten said. "We're going to treat them as marriages."

The only minor wrinkle for Hulten's office will be how to process couples who want to convert their civil union to a marriage. The new law will offer an option for same-sex couples currently in civil unions to have their marriages licensed automatically without the need for an additional ceremony or solemnization.

"We've got a couple of minor legal things we need to research," Hulten said. "We need to nail down exactly what our procedures are going to be for people who are in existing civil unions."

Since June 2011, when the state began recognizing same-sex unions, Hulten said, there have been 197 civil union licenses issued in Champaign County. Licenses are issued where the ceremony takes place, so not all of those were issued to Champaign County residents, nor do Champaign County residents necessarily have a local license.

The law explicitly states that religious organizations are not required to conduct marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples, and they are immune from civil or administrative claims if they refuse to do so. Phone messages left by The News-Gazette at a number of area churches and with the Catholic Diocese of Peoria went unreturned on Wednesday.

Opponents of the bill, which included most area lawmakers in the House, say the rules still impose on the religious beliefs of many people.

The Catholic Conference of Illinois said in a statement that it remains "concerned about the very real threats to religious liberty that are at stake with the passage of this bill."

The law "not only goes against the common consensus of the human race — which understands that nature tells us that marriage is the union of one man and one woman — but it also undermines an institution that is the cornerstone of a healthy society," the statement said. "The optimal condition in which to raise children is a home that includes both a mother and father, since women and men are not interchangeable."

Same-sex marriage is nothing new, however, for the Unitarian Universalist Church of Urbana-Champaign, where the Rev. Axel Gehrmann has been performing marriage ceremonies for more than a decade.

The difference now is that those marriages will be recognized by the state, and that is cause for celebration at the church, which unfurled rainbow flags outside its building in September.

"It's a grounds for celebration," he said. "It's evident that our work and advocacy has paid off. We believe this is very consistent with our religious values and beliefs."

Jerry Carden and Tim Temple are members of the Unitarian Universalist Church, but they are ahead of the game. They were married in Massachusetts in 2004, when it was legalized in that state.

"It was more of a symbolic kind of thing," Carden said. "At the time, I didn't know that it would ever mean anything for us in Illinois or Iowa," where the two grew up.

Carden said their Massachusetts marriage should now transfer to Illinois.

"We've been waiting for it for so long," he said.

When the couple got together 32 years ago, they thought the odds they would some day be legally married were long.

"One always hoped, but probably not," Carden said. "It was kind of out there in terms of something you didn't really believe would ever happen."

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