Monthly Archives: June 2011

Civil Unions and Employment Benefits Issues in Illinois

Employment BenefitsThe Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act went into effect on June 1, 2011.   A civil union creates a legal relationship between two persons of either the same or opposite sex who now may be defined as a “spouse,” a “dependent” or some other term that denote the spousal relationship.  Many individuals obtain retirement benefits through employment; some of those benefits also are provided to spouses or dependents.  The Civil Union Act will impact those benefits.

Whether or not partners in a civil union are entitled to benefits as a result of the employment of their partner depends upon the source and type of benefits offered.   You will need to know if the plan you or your partner participates in is an ERISA (Employee Retirement and Income Security Act) plan or not.   ERISA is federal law, and under the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a spouse is defined as an opposite sex marital partner only.  Employers who offer benefits under ERISA plans have to comply only with DOMA and do not need to offer benefits to partners in a civil union.  A plan can choose to offer benefits to civil union partners, but is not required to do so.   An employer can always offer benefits greater than required.  For instance, Illinois has a minimum wage higher than the minimum wage required by the federal government.  An employer may choose to offer benefits to same sex couples if they operate in a number of states with conflicting laws regarding same sex marriage to be consistent and for administrative ease.  For example, Iowa allows same-sex marriage, Illinois has civil unions, and Indiana recognizes only opposite sex marriages.  Employees will have to check their plan document to see how a spouse is defined and if benefits are provided to a same sex partner.

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First Divorce Filing For Same Sex Couple in Illinois

As of June 1, 2011, same-sex couples are permitted to apply for civil union licenses under the new Civil Union Act.  On the same historic date, another same-sex couple was filing for a divorce.

On Wednesday, June 1st, Mark Bayer filed his Petition for Dissolution at the Peoria County Courthouse, the first of two such petitions filed yesterday in Peoria and possibly the first same sex divorce filing in the state. The two men were married in Canada in 2006 and moved to Peoria two years later.  The Bayer case could set precedent for the application of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act to a same-sax couple.

Joshua Haid, the Chicago attorney who is representing Bayer, says he expects the court will treat Bayer’s divorce no differently than any other.  Before June 1st, Illinois recognized Bayer and his partner only as two people living in the same house. Now, they have all the rights and obligations of any other couple undergoing a divorce.  “Yesterday my client could of been kicked out of the house,” Haid said. “Today, he could not.”

As reported by Michael Boren of the Peoria Journal Star.

Related Post: What You Need to Know About Civil Unions in Illinois