On January 31st, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed into a law a bill recognizing civil unions. The new law - which takes effect on June 1, 2011 - grants partners in civil unions the same benefits and responsibilities that married spouses have under Illinois law in spite of the fact that a civil union is not considered a marriage. Although the bill has been hailed as a victory for gay rights groups, straight couples may also file to have their relationship recognized as a civil union.
The process for obtaining a civil union is much like that for getting married. The couple applies in person for a license from the county clerk's office in the county where their ceremony will be held, have a formal ceremony within 60 days, and then get a certificate from the clerk's office confirming their civil union.
While civil unions offer all the same benefits and responsibilities available to married couples under Illinois law, it is important to note that other states and the federal government are under no obligation to treat a civil union like a marriage. This disparity can be seen in many aspects of the couple's lives. For instance, while a couple in a civil union may file a joint Illinois state tax return, they must file separate federal tax returns.
The laws of other states might negatively affect partners in an Illinois civil union who leave the state. As an example, when a woman gives birth, there is a legal presumption that her husband is the father of the child. If a woman in an Illinois civil union gave birth in another state, it is unclear what legal assumptions of parentage that state would grant to the woman's partner. Similarly, state laws allow married couples to make medical decisions on behalf of a spouse if he or she becomes incapacitated. A couple with a civil union from Illinois may have difficulty convincing hospital staff in another state that they are entitled to the same protections that a married couple would enjoy.
Just like anyone considering marriage, anyone interested in joining with their partner in a civil union needs to weigh all the pros and cons of their decision. A great place to start is speaking with an experienced family law attorney. A skilled lawyer can answer your questions and give you the knowledge you need to make an informed decision about how to proceed.