Thursday, December 2, 2010

Illinois Civil Union Law

On Wednesday, December 1, 2010, the Illinois Senate passed the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act, which, when signed by the Governor, will become effective June 1, 2011. The law allows both homosexual and heterosexual couples ages 18 and older to enter into a "Civil Union."

I have been following this law for some time and it, in a nutshell, gives a "Party to a civil union" (I would have used "domestic partner") all of the legal rights of a spouse in Illinois. A non-exclusive list of the big changes:

A "Party to a civil union" gains legal rights to:

  • Make medical decisions without a Healthcare POA;
  • Have hospital visitation when visitation is limited to family;
  • Share nursing home rooms;
  • Spousal coverage under employer based health insurance plans;
  • Share in state pensions;
  • Receive inheritance without estate planning documents;
  • File suit over a wrongful death;
  • Invoke privilege to not have to testify against a partner.
What the law does not and cannot allow (because of the federal Defense of Marriage Act):
  • receiving a Social Security survivor's benefit;
  • filing joint federal tax returns;
  • receiving any other federal benefits reserved for a spouse.
Keep in mind that the value of partner benefits is treated as income and taxed by the federal government for income tax purposes. Further, a partner would not automatically have an interest in the other partner's 401(k), so a beneficiary designation form would have to be updated to pass the assets to the surviving partner. Last, any religious body, Indian Nation or Tribe or Native group is free to decide whether or not to solemnize or officiate a civil union.

A full text version of the act can be found here. Next year should be a stellar year for wedding planners, photographers, caterers, and anyone else in the wedding industry!


Michael W. Huseman said...

How do you dissolve a civil union? I don't think you can get divorced. Anybody have any thoughts?

Nathan Hinch said...

If signed into law and once effective, can "Parties to a Civil Union" take property by Tenancy by the Entirety? Based on Section 20 of bill, I'm assuming the answer is yes.

Ryan M. Holmes said...

Mike, Section 45 deals with dissolution. "A court shall enter an judgment of dissolution of a civil union if at the time the action is commenced it meets the grounds for dissolution set forth in Section 401 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act."

Assuming statistics hold true, courts can expect a 40% increase in their dissolution docket in the coming years.

Nathan, I would agree that the answer is yes.

Ryan M. Holmes said...


I did not look at the legislative history of the Civil Union Act, but the Joint Tenancy Act (765 ILCS 1005/1c defines tenancy by the entirety as between "husband and wife." "Husband and wife" is not specifically mentioned anywhere in the Act, but "Party to a Civil Union" does include "other terms that denote the spousal relationship, as those terms are used throughout the law." I believe this would cover "husband and wife." (It may also be clearly addressed in the legislative history, but that's beyond the scope of this comment).