On January 31, 2011, Governor Pat Quinn signed into law the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act, thereby making Illinois the 18th U.S. jurisdiction to pass legislation establishing a legal basis for some form of same-sex family relationships. While Illinois is the sixth state to formally recognize civil unions, twelve other states have granted legal status to same-sex marriages or domestic partnerships. The law is scheduled to go into effect on June 1, 2011.
The new act has two purposes: (1) To provide procedures for the certification and registration of a civil union, and (2) to grant to parties in a civil union the same benefits and responsibilities enjoyed by spouses under the laws of Illinois. These Illinois state rights include the state benefits available to partners of military veterans, pension benefits upon the partner’s death, the right to own real estate as tenants by the entirety, to inherit real and personal property through intestate succession, to visit and make medical decisions for the hospitalized partner, to share a nursing home room, to sue for wrongful death of the partner, and to be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits in the event of the partner’s disability or death.
The new law does not grant to partners in a civil union all the rights available to traditional married couples, however, because federal law does not recognize such relationships. For example, partners in a civil union may not file federal joint income tax returns nor may they inherit property from the deceased partner without paying federal estate tax. Just recently, an 80-year-old woman had to pay over $300,000 in estate tax after inheriting her partner’s property. Same-sex partners may not receive social security survivor benefits or federal benefits as partners of military veterans, nor may they receive benefits under certain specific ERISA health plans.
Candidates for a civil union must be at least 18 years old and must have legally dissolved any previous marriage, civil union, or domestic partnership. Certain family members, such as siblings and first cousins by blood, half-blood, or adoption, are prohibited from entering into a civil union. While the new act is most frequently linked to same-sex couples, opposite-sex couples may also choose to enter into a civil union rather than a marriage. Senior citizens receiving survivor benefits from Social Security or a pension may choose a civil union rather than risk losing those benefits through remarriage.
Illinois is currently working out the details of the procedures for entering into a civil union, including the application form, applicable fees, the information required for the certificate, and its registration after the ceremony. While a sitting or retired judge may officiate at a civil union ceremony, the various religious denominations may independently choose whether or not to perform civil unions.
Finally, in the event the parties to a civil union choose to end their legal relationship, the new act will utilize all the procedures and recognize the same rights as are included in the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act.
Click here for more information about the Effects of the Civil Union Act in Illinois.