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‘We’re official’ civil union couple says

Kenn Nels(left) Jim Adams Waukegan have been together for 34 years. They received their civil unilicense Wednesday Lake County Courthouse.

Kenn Nelson (left) and Jim Adams of Waukegan have been together for 34 years. They received their civil union license Wednesday at the Lake County Courthouse. | Thomas Delany Jr.~Sun-Times Media

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Check out the county clerk’s online photo album at Clerk Willard Helander

Updated: August 1, 2011 12:21AM

Jim Adams and Kenn Nelson of Waukegan were the first male couple to get their civil union license in Lake County.

The couple, who have been together 34 years, were third in line at the county clerk’s office Wednesday.

“It felt great — it was like a revelation. Now we’re official and we don’t have to hide in the closet,” Nelson said. “I think it helps the whole gay and lesbian community find out who they are.”

They were among 15 couples to get their civil union license the first day the new law went into effect, according to the Lake County Clerk’s Office.

Nelson said he and Adams arrived at the Waukegan courthouse around 7 a.m. Two lesbian couples were ahead of them in line.

Nelson described the process as “such a positive experience.” The procedure was simple: Pay a fee, fill out a form and swear who they were.

Just like that, the couple has a number of legal protections like the power to decide medical care for an ailing partner, right to inherit a partner’s property and to be considered next of kin.

The first couple arrived at the courthouse around 5 a.m. Wednesday, according to Lake County Clerk Willard Helander, adding six people were waiting when the doors opened at 8:30 a.m.

It took about a month and a half’s worth of planning to get ready to issue the civil union licenses, she said.

A new computer program had to be designed and staff had to be trained to use the new software and legal documents, she said.

Clerk staff photographed couples as they stood in line and received their licenses, Helander said. Their photos were put online in a Facebook album, which is what the clerk’s office does for special events, Helander said.

“It’s gone very well and we were happy to hear from our first customers how well our staff did,” Helander said. “It was very nice to know that everyone felt well-served and were most appreciative of everything our staff did.”

Nelson and Adams agreed.

“It was fun. We actually tried to go right away when the law passed three months ago,” Nelson said.

The couple met at a bar in Kenosha when Adams was serving four years in the Navy. Nelson had just gotten out of the Navy after his four years of service. This was several years before “Don’t ask, don’t tell” went into effect.

“If they found out (you were gay), it was an immediate dismissal. It was always an issue. It was living a lie,” Adams said.

Even though the civil union isn’t the same as marriage, it guarantees rights that put him at ease, Adams said.

Now the two can legally own their two consignment stores in Highwood together. In addition, Nelson can make medical decisions if it becomes necessary.

Adams is a cancer survivor and was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, a heart issue, he said. Adams said he is now in good health.

While both their families have been “very supportive,” he said he has heard horror stories where other families were not supportive and longstanding life partners of medical issues.

“We’re out in public now. This civil union is just another major step in our lives to come out and live a normal life,” Adams said.

He and Nelson held a civil union bash in their home Wednesday evening and are having a formal ceremony on June 12.

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