More than 30 same-sex couples marked the first day of civil unions in Illinois by taking vows in downtown Chicago's Millennium Park Thursday morning.
"For me it means a lot -- making this commitment. But I also feel like we're part of history here," Shanelle Moffett told the Chicago Sun-Times as she prepared for the ceremony with her partner, Tenisha Watkins.
Couples could obtain civil union licenses beginning Wednesday at county clerk's offices, but there was a one-day waiting period before ceremonies could take place. The Illinois civil unions law offers same-sex and opposite-sex couples the state-level rights and responsibilities of marriage.
While couples all over the state were taking advantage of the new law, the biggest event was in Chicago, the largest city in Illinois and home to the state's largest and most visible gay population. At Millennium Park Thursday, judges and one minister presided over ceremonies, the Chicago Gay Men's Chorus performed, and Illinois governor Pat Quinn and Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel addressed the gathering.
"All of us in the Land of Lincoln can celebrate," Quinn told the crowd. "We believe everybody's in and nobody's left out in our state. Everybody is important." Emanuel praised the "progressive leadership" of the governor, who signed the civil unions bill into law. Earlier, in his office, Emanuel had officiated a civil union ceremony for his chief of policy and strategic planning, David Spielfogel.
Also in attendance at the park were several gay or lesbian dignitaries: state representatives Deborah Mell and Kelly Cassidy, Chicago alderman Tom Tunney, and Chicago Cubs co-owner Laura Ricketts.
Another event with multiple civil unions is scheduled for Friday evening at the Chicago History Museum as a benefit for the Civil Rights Agenda, an LGBT rights group. Forty-five couples are expected to attend. A planned mass civil union event in the Chicago suburb of Bolingbrook was canceled because too few couples registered.