For the first time in my working life I have a job that will allow me to add my partner to my health insurance. This will save us several thousand dollars a year. In order to make certain that we were partners and not just two random people trying to scam the system, specific documentation of the relationship was necessary. In states where same sex relationships are not recognized I would have simply requested a form from my employer, filled it out and returned it. In states where same sex unions are recognized, i.e. Illinois, we had to go through the steps necessary to obtain the state's official recognition.
On a day we both had off we went downtown to the County Building to apply for Domestic Partner status. After 16 years of cohabitation and 6 years of dual ownership of our condo we were going to pay a fee, sign some papers and have the state of Illinois rubberstamp our foreheads officially certifying us as a committed couple...or so we thought. Upon arriving at the County Building we were informed that since Illinois was so progressive that it now recognize Civil Unions the Domestic Partnership designation was no longer available. Our only option was a Civil Union. The fees involved with a Civil Union, while fairly modest, are twice those associated with a Domestic Partnership. Furthermore, where the Domestic Partnership would have taken 90 minutes or so, the Civil Union requires two visits over two separate days. The first to obtain a license (what are we dogs?), the second to go before a judge and have him rubberstamp our foreheads certifying us, after 16 years of cohabitation and 6 years of condo co-ownership, as a couple in the eyes of the law. While processing all this information I was simultaneously holding an inner conversation with myself which went something like "I'm just trying to same a few bucks! Why is this getting so complicated!"
After getting the license it was a couple of weeks before we could arrange a common day off to go to the courthouse. During this fortnight I found myself explaining to everyone who was working themselves into a tizzy over our upcoming "Ceremony", "We're just doing it to save money for christ's sake. We've been together 16 years! If it was important to me on a personal level don't you think I would have taken care of it before now? No veils, no flowers, no gowns, no tuxes! I intend to wear jeans and a sweatshirt!"
The day arrived and we got on the El to go downtown. This is what we encountered next. The area where the ceremony is performed is in the basement of the Courthouse. We enter a room with badly stained carpet and several rows of stackable chairs decorated with equally stained framed prints on the walls. Plastic plants and a large furnace completed the decor. It resembled the waiting room of a Greyhound bus station. Behind the desk sat a silver haired woman who seemed to be waiting until she completed enough years in the state's service to collect her pension.
Shortly we were ushered into the Judge's chambers. Picture a poorly furnished windowless room featuring the kind of fake wood paneling found in the finest of trailer homes. Faded U.S. and State of Illinois flags completed the decor. The Judge was a tall balding man shaking from the effects of acute alchoholism. You could almost feel the romance in the air.
The Judge read our "vows", his words resounding with the passion and conviction one would expect to hear from someone reading a phone book. The entire process clocked in at approximately 5 minutes. Upon leaving my partner suggested that if we had exchanged rings the ceremony might have dragged on for a quarter of an hour. We then had lunch utilizing a gift card given to us the previous Christmas...this was November...we don't eat out much.
After 16 years of cohabitation and 6 years of owning property together the State has now declared our relationship valid within the borders of Illinois. If we should decide to venture into the neighboring States of Indiana or Missouri all bets are off....in Iowa we're good.....