ROCKFORD, Ill. (AP) -- Richard Peterson and Frank Colson have been together for 50 years in a relationship that has spanned 10 U.S. presidencies -- and its share of intolerance and raised eyebrows.
Through it all, they've endured, to the point that they have adjoining cemetery plots and a headstone already in place.
What they lament is that they've never had official recognition from their government that they're a couple.
This week, that changes.
On Wednesday, the Rockford retirees will be at the courthouse like scores of other gay and lesbian couples across Illinois. They'll apply for a civil union license as a new law bestows on them rights that were unimaginable when they became a couple in the early 1960s.
Gov. Pat Quinn signed the historic civil union legislation into law in January.
WHAT IT IS: The Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act allows same-sex couples to enter into civil unions granting them many rights already afforded married couples. Illinois law will continue to limit marriage to one man and one woman, and civil unions still are not recognized by the federal government.
WHAT IT DOES: Civil unions give couples the right to make funeral and end-of-life decisions, the right to share a room in a nursing home, automatic hospital visitation, adoption and parental rights, pension benefits, inheritance rights, the right to decide how to dispose of a partner's remains, and the right not to testify against each other in court.
WHEN IT HAPPENS: As of June 1, couples may get a license for a civil union only in the county where the ceremony is to be performed. Couples then must wait at least a day before being allowed to enter into a civil union. The license expires 60 days after being issued.
WHAT IF ALREADY MARRIED: Marriages of same-sex couples in other states are acknowledged in Illinois and negate the need for a civil union.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)