Often considered the next-best thing for committed same-sex couples who are excluded from marriage, civil unions may become a reality in Illinois, according to the Chicago Tribune. State Rep. Greg Harris has slowly built up support for the bill over the past three years and Gov. Pat Quinn promised to sign it.
So what is a civil union? It’s not quite marriage but the institution does extend many of the rights and privileges heterosexual spouses often take for granted, including the ability to make funeral arrangements for one’s partner.
One thing it wouldn’t do is allow an individual to collect a deceased partner’s Social Security benefits, for example, since that is covered by federal law.
Illinois currently prohibits gay marriage, so there’s only so much that Chicago family law attorneys can do for same-sex couples who otherwise live together in committed relationships. But that could all change if HB 2234 passes, which it very well could this week.
Since court rulings protecting gay marriage typically just create a backlash, as in California and more recently in Iowa, Illinois’ approach seems politically shrewd. A September poll found that while just 41 percent of Illinoisans supported gay marriage, 57 percent supported civil unions.
Essentially, most state rights extended to heterosexual couples would apply to couples that enter into civil unions, including inheritance and insurance benefits. It also would allow divorcing couples access to family courts for the purpose of child custody, support and visitation determinations.
The Tribune article, which promotes a pro-civil union perspective, suggests that civil unions are a strong compromise mostly because the word “marriage” carries strong religious connotations for many:
Most of them understand that it’s unfair to deny same-sex couples the legal protections, tax advantages and other privileges that heterosexual couples take for granted.
Speak with an Illinois family lawyer if you have more questions about civil unions, should it become legal in the state.
- 1999: Civil Unions in Vermont (FindLaw)
- Contact a Divorce Attorney in Chicago (FindLaw)
- State of the Union: Hawaii Senate Passes Civil Unions Bill (FindLaw Law & Daily Life Blog)