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Battle Over Same-Sex Civil Unions Hits Downtown

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Same sex marriage protest. (CBS)

Same sex marriage protest. (CBS)

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CHICAGO (CBS) — Civil unions between same sex couples become legal in Illinois next Wednesday, with the first ceremonies starting on Thursday.

That’s prompting joy in the gay community, but also an effort by gay marriage opponents to fight the new law.

CBS 2’s Derrick Blakley covered the dueling demonstrations on Friday in the Loop.

The initial protest staged outside of the Thompson Center by opponents of civil unions.

They believe the legalization of same-sex civil unions has sold out the institution of traditional marriage.

LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s Mary Frances Bragiel Reports

“Marriage has been one man and one woman since the beginning of time,” said one protester.

Supporters want language on the November 2012 ballot that reads: “The union of one man and one woman in marriage shall be the only agreement recognized as a marriage.”

That, in turn, triggered a counter-demonstration by supporters of the new law.

Across the street from the Thompson Center, members of the gay and lesbian community waved flags, protesting the rally and petition.

James Gregory said he believes it would be discriminatory to ban same-sex marriage.

“You just have to forgive them because they are doing what they believe in, but it’s still ignorant,” he said.

Gay couples who plan to take advantage of civil unions believe the new civil union law is just catching up with the commitment they’ve been living for years.

Jim Darby and Patrick Bova have been together four decades, but next Thursday they’ll legally become a couple through the new civil union law.

“We’ve been dating for 47 years and now we’re going to get more or less married,” Darby said. “And in the eyes of every one we know, we can say, yeah, I’ve got my paper.”

“It is a civil right, that’s why it’s called civil unions,” Bova said. “We would like it, however, someday to be called marriage.”

That’s exactly what the foes of civil unions and gay marriage vehemently oppose.

“The reason I’m here, nobody was doing anything. It seemed as though the homosexuals were getting ready to take over Chicago,” protester Dick Walsh said.

About 200 opponents of gay marriage gathered outside St. Peters church, hoping to blunt the new civil unions law by putting a traditional marriage to a referendum vote.

“I think there’s no doubt the citizens, the voters of Illinois will strongly endorse marriage as we all understand it, as one man and one woman,” Preston Nowell said.

Opponents of gay marriage would need 3,000 valid signatures on their petitions in order to place their proposed constitutional amendment on the Illinois ballot.

Under a new law that goes into effect on June 1, Illinois will provide same-sex couples the legal rights of married couples under state law.

That would include things like automatic hospital visitation rights, the ability to make emergency medical decisions for partners, adoption and parental rights and inheritance rights.

Darby and Bova will be one of 30 couples taking part in a large civil union ceremony Thursday at Millennium Park.

Meantime, opponents are working to place a “defense of marriage” referendum on the Illinois ballot as soon as next year.

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