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How the Illinois Civil Union Law Works

Update by Lurleen: Equality Illinois has posted 5 pages of Civil Union FAQs that answer many of the questions posed in the comment section.

Wednesday the Illinois legislature passed the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Unions Act. Once the Governor signs it (he says he will), it’ll become law. Here’s how it works:

Who Can Enter a Civil Union
Any 2 people who are 18 or older, including straight couples. The law says a union can be between ”2 persons of either the same or opposite sex.”

However, just as with marriage, certain people cannot enter into a civil union. These include siblings, first cousins, nephews and nieces, or those already married or already in a civil union.

It appears that people from another state can travel to Illinois and enter into a civil union if they wish. However, the civil union can only be dissolved in Illinois.

Rights Compared to Marriage
People in a civil union will be given the same rights as people married. These rights are given by the following clause in the law:

“Party to a civil union” means, and shall be included in, any definition or use of the terms “spouse”, “family”, “immediate family”, “dependent”, ”next of kin”, and other terms that denote the spousal relationship, as those terms are used throughout the law.

That means that wherever Illinois law says something applies to those above terms, it also applies to people in a civil union. For example, if Illinois has a state tax deduction related to married spouses, it will now also apply to parties in a civil union.

Note that this law does not give civil unions federal marriage rights. Because of the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal government does not recognize same-sex marriages or civil unions.

How to Enter a Civil Union
Couples must file an application with a county clerk. Then, the county clerk gets a license from the state Department of Public Health. Then the civil union must be certified by a judge, county official, or religious figure.

Out-of-State Recognition
The new law also adds out-of-state recognition for same sex marriages and civil unions. That means that a same-sex couple married in Massachusetts, for example, will be treated in Illinois as if they have an Illinois civil union.

In addition, the law does not require that the out-of-state relationship be called a “marriage” or “civil union.” It must only be a relationship “substantially similar” to those. This is key, because it’s possible that states could call a marriage-like relationship “domestic partnership,” for example.

[Cross-posted at the Gay Law Report, where I discuss LGBT laws and related news.]

Gideon Alper

Gideon Alper