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UPDATED 06/02/11 11:22 a.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) – It was a shining moment for all to see Thursday morning, as same-sex couples gathered to exchange vows for their civil unions in Millennium Park.
As CBS 2’s Susanna Song reports, the turnout was impressive at Wrigley Square, at the northwestern corner at Millennium Park near Michigan Avenue and Randolph Drive.
Hundreds of people – possibly even a couple thousand – gathered in the park and along Michigan Avenue to witness the momentous event.
Each couple was assigned to a judge, and five couples exchanged vows at a time. Between 10 and 11 a.m., CBS 2 witnessed about 15 couples tie the knot.
At the start, a string quartet captured the moments leading up the ceremony, with cheerfulness all around the square. A total of 30 same-sex couples who received their licenses Wednesday arrived in their finest dresses and suits.
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The couples took a group picture to mark the occasion, and many said it was surreal to be together there.
“This is a day that we thought would never come,” said Diana Shull. “This is an exciting day. I’m just so happy that we’re here taking part.”
When asked if she thought she would cry, Shull said: “I’m sure we both will. We have some Kleenex on hand.”
“A lot of people worked very hard, and people have died through this struggle, so it’s important that we recognize it,” said Shull’s partner, Maggie Burke.
Among the other couples joined at the ceremony were Patrick Bova and James Darby of the Hyde Park neighborhood. They will have been together for 48 years on July 17.
Both said they felt “wonderful” as they stood for the ceremony.
Also at the ceremony were Janean Watkins and Lakeesha Harris, who were the first couple to receive a civil union license Wednesday. They have been together for more than a decade and have six children together.
They joined us on the CBS 2 Morning News Thursday to talk about their milestone. Harris described the couple’s six children as “really excited.”
“Everybody could hardly sleep last night,” she said. “We had to make them go to bed.”
The couple said a civil union is particularly important for the legal protections it offers.
“We get an opportunity to do the things that are necessary to take care of our children,” Watkins said. “We have legal protections now. There are a lot of reasons why we felt we needed to have this.”
Gov. Pat Quinn and Mayor Rahm Emanuel were both present for the ceremony. Quinn signed the legislation allowing for civil unions into law on Jan. 31, after it was approved by both houses of the state General Assembly in December.
“This was one of the most important bills that Illinois has passed in anyone’s memory,” Quinn said in opening the ceremony.
After Quinn’s address, the couples exchanged vows in groups of five. Among those performing the ceremonies were Cook County Circuit Court Chief Judge Timothy Evans, and Circuit Court Judge Tom Chiola, who became the first openly gay judge elected in the county in 1994.
As of 11 a.m., several couples were still waiting to take their vows. Once a judge signs their license, they will finally receive a civil union certificate to seal the deal.
Earlier, six other same-sex couples made their unions fully official well before dawn. They celebrated their love at the stroke of midnight at the Catalyst Ranch, 656 W. Randolph St.
Those couples won the ceremony as part of a video and writing contest on Facebook. Sixteen local wedding vendors donated the food, wine, flowers, a disc jockey and even a photographer.
The party lasted well into the wee hours of the morning.
Steve Coy and Felix Diaz have been together 2 1/2 years, and they say this day was extremely important for them.
“To be able to look after one another and make decisions for each other that the other one can’t; to actually be a fully, functionally working couple together,” Diaz said.
“This is extremely important for us that we are able to now be there, no matter what, for each other,” Coy added.
The legislation allowing for civil unions in Illinois was signed into law by Gov. Quinn on Jan. 31, after being approved by both houses of the state General Assembly in December.
Civil unions give same sex and opposite sex couples the same rights as married couples when it comes to parenting, hospital rights, inheritances and more.