In what observers are calling a major victory for committed same-sex couples, the recently passed civil unions bill clears the path for gay couples who seek the rights and privileges previously available to just heterosexuals who got married.
But an article in the Chicago Tribune explains how the institution of civil union may be a good fit for some heterosexual couples as well. In fact, bill sponsor Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, expressly stated his intention to draft an inclusive bill that wasn't just for gay couples.
Some senior citizens lobbied for the bill, he said, because those with survivor's benefits from Social Security or a pension risk losing those benefits if they remarry. By getting a civil union instead, he stated, these individuals can have the same state rights granted to married couples without losing their benefits:
"If you go to a senior building, you'll find a lot of people who face this dilemma. They may be the largest single group of beneficiaries by number."
Chicago family law attorney John Schleppenbach wrote a 2009 article in the Elder Law Journal about how a civil unions law, if extended to straight couples as well, would be of "vital importance" to seniors who otherwise might risk losing their benefits.
Other heterosexual couples just want the legal protections of marriage without actually getting married, according to Courtney Greve, spokeswoman for Cook County Clerk David Orr. She said the office gets calls about this weekly, often from young couples facing a loss of health insurance.
Governor Pat Quinn said he plans to sign the bill early next year, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, while it likely will be enacted in June.
Applicants will not be required to sign an affidavit stating that they live together, as often is required for domestic partner benefits, and the process is reportedly very similar to obtaining a marriage license.
This is still new territory for Illinois, so it may be wise for interested couples to speak with an Illinois family lawyer before making plans.