Civil Unions

ILLINOIS CIVIL UNION ACT

Civil Unions in Illinois Effective June 1, 2011: Effective June 1, 2011, the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act officially became effective. The full citation to the State law is 750 ILCS 75. It is available for your review at www.ilga.gov and listed under Illinois Compiled Statutes.

In general, the Illinois Civil Union Act grants to same-sex partners and opposite-sex partners legal status as if they were lawfully married. The law is to be broadly interpreted in favor of enforcement as if the couple were married.

The civil union process is initiated by the couple going to the county clerk’s office where they reside and filling out an application for a civil union license. Once the application has been reviewed and approved, the clerk will issue a license which is effective on the date after it is issued granting permission for the couple to complete the civil union. The license expires sixty (60) days from the date it is issued. The clerk will also issue a certificate similar to a marriage certificate that will be filled out by the officiating party who performs the civil union ceremony. The new law continues the existing law in Illinois barring marriages and civil unions between certain related individuals, i.e., family members, etc. There are no formal requirements for the actual ceremony other than the fact that the person officiating has to be a person who is authorized to officiate at wedding ceremonies in the State of Illinois.

The State Legislature recognized that many religious organizations may disagree with the Civil Union Act on religious grounds. Therefore, the law specifically exempts any religious organization from the requirement that it perform or solemnize civil union ceremonies. Churches are free to decide whether or not they will perform civil union ceremonies.

The Civil Union Act affects all areas of State law but has no effect on Federal law. Illinois civil, criminal, administrative law and common law have all been modified by this new Act. Under State law, for example, a spouse cannot be forced to testify against their spouse in criminal or civil cases. This will now apply to civil union partners. Health insurance benefits that are made available to employees and their spouses now must be made available to civil union partners as well. Civil union partners will now inherit from their partners, be able to act as executors or administrators of their partners’ estates, and be entitled to serve as guardians over their disabled civil union partners.

Civil union partners can now bring actions for wrongful death and for injuries including loss of consortium claims that were previously only allowed to married couples.

Civil union partners can now hold title to real estate as tenants by the entireties rather than joint tenancy or tenants in common. This gives the civil union partners the maximum protection allowed by law to property owners from creditors claims against the other partner or spouse.

There are several unclear areas of law and some new liabilities added under the law as well.

One of the main disagreements between Illinois law and Federal law is that Federal law does not recognize civil unions or same-sex marriages. Civil union partners will be unable to share Federal benefits such as Federal pensions, social security benefits, medicare benefits, and the like. Federal law also does not allow civil union partners to file joint tax returns. While the Illinois Civil Union Act seems on its face to allow civil union partners to file a joint Illinois Income Tax Return, recently the Illinois Department of Revenue issued a statement to the contrary.

Civil union partners also are now going to be held joint and severally liable for each other’s reasonable living expenses under the Illinois Family Expense Act.

Another provision of the Civil Union Act, extends modified reciprocity to same-sex marriages and same-sex civil unions similar to the Illinois law that were legally entered into by partners in another state. Those individuals will be deemed to have an Illinois civil union in the State of Illinois.

This overview of the Illinois Civil Union Act is not meant to be exhaustive nor comprehensive. Please seek out legal counsel to review your personal situation pertaining to civil unions and their impact on your legal rights and responsibilities.