“I’m thrilled this day has finally come,” said Cook County Clerk David Orr. “This will be a joyous day for all couples — gay and straight — who want to make history as part of the inaugural group of civil unions.”
This new law grants couples basic rights like automatic hospital visitation rights, the ability to share a room in a nursing home, pension benefits, adoption and parental rights, inheritance rights, the ability to make emergency medical decisions for partners, and the right to dispose of a partner’s remains.
Illinois Governor, Pat Quinn said the measure was a matter of civil rights and basic fairness. Illinois now joins California, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington, and the district of Columbia who have recently enacted similar laws. (Hawaii and Delaware have also passed civil union laws, but they haven’t yet been enacted.) It also symbolically represents a growing trend of tolerance which has been building in our country since the beginning of our struggle for equality.
What is a civil union? It is the creation of a legal relationship between two people which means that same-sex couples can now have all the same obligations and the protections and benefits that Illinois state law grants to married couples. What it does not provide are benefits and protections under federal law because the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) prohibits these protections. Because of DOMA, Illinois’ state law cannot require other states to recognize a civil union; DOMA allows these states to discriminate against civil unioned spouses. Due to the discrepancy between Illinois law and the federal DOMA, people still will need to do more than just rely on the civil union law to protect their assets and children.
Finally, a civil union is not a marriage, with the general understanding and weight that comes with that word. Marriage is a widely recognized and respected social institution. Civil unions – not so much.
So, what will new couples in Illinois get from a civil union? Civil union spouses are afforded every obligation and protection provided to married couples by Illinois law. Even if Illinois had passed a marriage bill instead of a civil union bill, it could not provide any further state benefits. The way to understand this new law is as a safety net for your relationship that simply did not exist before the Civil Union Act was passed.
What Are The Differences Between Full Marriage Rights and Rights Afforded Under the Civil Union Law?Although there are significant benefits from civil unions, there are still limitations. Even after you enter into a civil union, couples still need to complete a second parent adoption and couples still need to execute powers of attorney and wills. Why is this? Because our civil union safety net is not honored by the federal government and are not honored by all states.
There are currently five states and the District of Columbia which issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Two states will only recognize a marriage from another state. Six states offer a civil union-like license. Three states provide lesser protections. The rest of the states and many other countries will not honor same-sex civil unions. Therefore, if you travel or move to one of these states, or if you travel or move abroad, your parent-child relationship is at risk without a second parent adoption, and your civil union spousal relationship is at risk without executed powers of attorney and wills.
To be clear, the following federal benefits are NOT available to same-sex couples, even in states that recognize same-sex marriages or unions:
- Couples do not receive social security, survivor, and spousal benefits because they are federal government-run programs;
- Couples do not receive federal veterans’ spousal benefits for the same reason;
- Couples do not receive immigration rights associated with marriage;
- Couples do not receive federal spousal employment benefits;
- There is no exemption from the inheritance tax, which is granted by federal law and constitutes a recognition of no limit on gifts at death for an opposite-sex spouse;
- There are no exemptions on gifts to spouses
- Couples do not receive health insurance coverage for our union spouse without being taxed on it; and
- Couples cannot file joint federal tax returns – or receive the related tax reductions. Instead, couples will prepare a joint federal return to determine state taxes but actually file separate federal returns.
To change this, DOMA must be repealed by Congress or overturned by the Courts. Illinois has done all they can do.