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Plans for Illinois same-sex marriages in the works

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(AP photo)
Illinois Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, sponsor of the gay marriage bill, speaks to lawmakers while on the House floor during veto session Wednesday in Springfield. With the Legislature's blessing finally, proponents of gay marriage in Illinois now turn to implementation, figuring out the timing and licensing aspects but also how to ease the minds of opponents who fear they will be forced to take actions that counter their beliefs.

SPRINGFIELD – Just a few hours after state lawmakers approved same-sex marriage in Illinois, Chicago wedding planner Lindsay Parrott started getting her first inquiries for summer weddings.

“I got an email at 11 p.m.,” she said. “Everybody is really excited to be able to do this.”

From the wedding industry to tourism, Illinois businesses are gearing up for June 1, the first day that same-sex marriage licenses can be issued under legislation approved by lawmakers Tuesday. While legislators in favor and the state’s top elected officials have touted gay marriage as a matter of equality and civil rights, businesses hope the start of weddings will be a nice boost to the state’s economy, too. But that start date – which falls on a Sunday – also is causing some logistical problems for the state’s county clerks who’ll be issuing marriage licenses.

Illinois is set to become the 15th state to legalize same-sex marriage when Gov. Pat Quinn signs the bill, which the Chicago Democrat said Wednesday he’ll do with a festive celebration this month. The measure says that starting June 1, all Illinois couples can go about the usual way of getting married: Head to the county clerk’s office, get a license and then have it officiated a day later by a government or religious official.

However, businesses and tourism officials say it means that Illinois can expand a niche business, too. They cite a 2013 study by UCLA’s The Williams Institute that says allowing same-sex couples to marry in Illinois would generate up to $103 million in new spending in the first three years.

The Illinois Office of Tourism beefed up its website Wednesday to promote gay friendly spots in Illinois. State travel director Jen Hoelzle said the site will soon include a list of places to get married once the bill is signed. The Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau, which already promotes Chicago’s gay-friendly neighborhoods and events such as the city’s massive Pride Parade, expects more hotel and restaurant business.

“This is like a final piece of the puzzle for us,” said Jack Johnson, the head of the Chicago bureau.

However, the logistics of the state’s same-sex marriage bill are still in the works.

While those already in civil unions will be able to get a marriage license without an additional fee, the start date is causing some headaches. Some county clerk offices have said they’ll open on June 1 and others aren’t so sure.

The bulk the state’s civil unions – roughly 4,000 of the 5,000 in the state – were issued in Cook County. After being undecided on whether their facilities would be open on a Sunday, officials with Cook County Clerk David Orr’s office announced Wednesday that they’d open June 1.

“There will be people competing to get the first license,” Orr said.

In central Illinois, Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten said his office will be open; The county has issued 197 civil unions. In southwestern Illinois, Madison County Clerk Debra Ming-Mendoza said the office will open to issue marriage licenses June 2; The county has issued 191 civil unions.

The issue could be moot, however.

State Sen. Don Harmon, an Oak Park Democrat, has filed legislation to move up the effective date on the same-sex marriage bill, but a vote isn’t expected this week as lawmakers finish up the final days of veto session. That’s because legislation approved in veto session needs a heftier vote for it to take effect immediately and the gay marriage vote squeaked by in the House with little more than a simple majority.

Harmon’s legislation could come up in January, allowing couples to wed earlier.

The newly-approved legislation also affects a lawsuit that has been pending in Cook County. Twenty-five couples had sued after being rejected for marriage licenses at county clerk offices, but attorneys for Lambda Legal, which represents some of the couples, said that the lawsuit was likely to be dismissed in light of the legislation.

In the meantime, Rachel Meyering, owner of Sparkles Fine Jewelry in Chicago’s gay-friendly Andersonville neighborhood is planning a special event this weekend with a jewelry designer who caters to gay and lesbian couples.

“I had a feeling that it was coming soon,” Meyering said of the vote. “I wanted to cater to the neighborhood.”

No matter what day it is, couples statewide say they’re just ready for the chance to further solidify their relationships.

Robyne O’Mara and Lynne Burnett of the southwestern Illinois community of Godfrey have been together for 33 years. They got a civil union two years ago, but said they want more legal protections and possibly another ceremony with family.

“It’s recognition we didn’t have before,” O’Mara said. “When we’ve been explaining that we were in a civil union, people were questioning what that meant. And it’s always measured as less. It’s not the same thing as marriage.”

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Follow Sophia Tareen at https://twitter.com/sophiatareen .

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The bills are SB10 (same-sex marriage) and HB2747 (contains amendment on effective date).

Online: www.ilga.gov

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