WOODSTOCK – As a same-sex couple with supportive families, Michael Vandekreke and Dale Leing entered the McHenry County Clerk's office Monday with only human rights on their minds.
The Crystal Lake couple of nearly seven years already had entered into a civil union days after that landmark law took effect in June 2011. On Monday, they became one of the first same-sex couples in the county to convert their union into a marriage.
The couple noted that the move solidifies their union but added issues like medical visitation and survivorship that a marriage license addresses were never problems with their families.
"In that regard, we haven't had that pressure," Leing said. "We just wanted to do it for human rights. Everybody should have the same rights."
In a day Leing thought he would never see, many of the 102 county clerks in Illinois started issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples for the first time.
Sunday was the legal start of the gay marriage law in Illinois, but only a few offices issued licenses because the day fell on a weekend. As the rollout of the historic law started Monday, Gov. Pat Quinn planned to mark the occasion by attending a wedding at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art in the afternoon.
More than a dozen counties also started issuing the licenses earlier this year after a federal court ruling, but most counties opted to wait until the law officially took effect June 1.
McHenry County clerk officials were shocked Monday morning by the low turnout of people either wanting to convert their civil union or receive their first marriage license.
County Clerk Katherine Schultz was expecting long lines and a full parking lot when she arrived for work at 7:30 a.m. But the lot, instead, was empty.
As of late morning, the office had only issued seven same-sex marriage licenses, including five converted from civil unions.
"I got here at 7:30, pulled into the parking lot, and there wasn't a car out there," Schultz said, adding couples started to trickle in a few minutes after the office opened at 8 a.m.
Both Vandekreke, 40, and Leing, 51, said they were surprised to hear that they were only the seventh couple to receive a license on Monday morning. But they were overjoyed to convert their union into a marriage and start receiving the same legal protections granted to heterosexual couples.
"This is just something that solidifies our already strong union," Vandekreke said. "It's wonderful that we were able to do that today."
– The Associated Press contributed to this report