Many choosing to wed in Champaign County
CHAMPAIGN — Champaign County has issued 87 same-sex marriage licenses — 10 times more than eight neighboring counties combined — since it became legal in Illinois to do so, a News-Gazette analysis shows.
In fact, five counties in East Central Illinois — DeWitt, Edgar, Ford, Iroquois and Moultrie — have yet to issue a single marriage license to a same-sex couple, officials said.
Of those five, all but Ford and Moultrie have converted civil unions to marriage licenses since June 2.
Civil unions have been legal in Illinois since June 2011. Exactly three years later, new legislation — the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act — allowed for those civil unions to be converted into marriages.
Champaign County has converted 61 civil unions since the beginning of last week. Forty-one of those came on the first day.
While county clerks had to wait until then to convert civil unions, a February ruling by a Cook County judge enabled them to begin issuing marriage licenses immediately, which Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten opted to do.
While Hulten's office's numbers dwarf those of most surrounding counties, it's not known how they compare to more populated neighbors Macon and McLean. The reason: Clerks in those counties have not been keeping track.
Macon County was one of the first counties in the state to follow the lead of Cook and Champaign and begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses well ahead of June. Its clerk, Stephen Bean, said he no longer distinguishes between opposite-sex and same-sex marriages.
"They shouldn't be tracked separately," Bean said. "Same sex is a regular marriage now. To me, a marriage is a marriage under state law, so there's no reason to keep them out separately."
McLean County Clerk Kathy Michael had a similar stance. When her office enters marriage license data electronically, she said, there's no distinction in the couple's sex.
"Everything is equal. ... We put all the marriages together," Michael said.
(In Champaign County, Hulten's office manually tallied the number of same-sex licenses issued and shared that information with The News-Gazette, as did other counties).
Whatever McLean's number is, Michael said, it's more than a handful. Since last week, her office has been busy processing both licenses and conversions to same-sex couples.
"The first two weeks were completely booked," Michael said.
McLean issues marriage licenses by appointment only these days, Michael added — unless it's an emergency situation, like a couple with a wedding ceremony planned the next day who forgot to get their license. "Had a couple of those."
The numbers were much easier to come up with in other East Central Illinois counties.
In Vermilion, County Clerk Lynn Foster said her office has issued eight same-sex marriage licenses and six conversions, five of which came on the first day.
Some couples have been excited, Foster said, even asking staff to take their picture to commemorate the moment.
"That's fun," Foster said.
Ford County Clerk Linda Kellerhalls said her office had a couple phone calls about civil union conversions, but hasn't had anyone come in to follow up. She hasn't had any couples request a same-sex marriage license, either.
Iroquois County Clerk Lisa Fancher said she has processed two civil union conversions.
A county-by-county look at same-sex marriage licenses and civil union conversions:
|McLean||N/A||More than 35|