Today is an important day for many same-sex couples seeking equality under Illinois law. The "Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act," which grants official civil unions for same-sex and opposite-sex couples in this state, goes into effect today June 1, 2011.
This new state law will recognize civil unions in Illinois, however, it should be noted that it is still a separate distinction from "marriage" in this state. Illinois will also now automatically recognize same-sex marriages and civil unions that are legally joined in other states
Starting today in Illinois, spouses joined in a civil union will now be afforded many of the same benefits and protections as traditionally married couples. Some of the main protections include:
· Spousal recognition in regard to property, inheritance, estate other financial matters
· Medical and healthcare rights including access to information, decision-making, hospital visitation
· Ability for joint filing of ILLINOIS STATE income taxes
· Access to spousal employment benefits for state public employees
· Health insurance coverage for partners and children
· State benefits with regard to death or disability of a spouse
While this is a big step forward, there are several important areas where the new law will fall short for civil union spouses. For better insight into difficulties couples may still face, Wedding Creativo interviewed Catherine D. Battista, an attorney with the Argento Law Group, P.C., a firm providing legal services for marriage contracts and estate financial planning.
Catherine D. Battista, Argento Law Group
Battista said couples entering into civil unions should be informed about legal limitations of the new Illinois law. She pointed out several key areas where civil union spouses will not have the same benefits and protections as traditional married spouses, largely due to differences between Illinois state and federal laws, as well as other individual state laws. Currently, Illinois civil unions will not be recognized by the federal government, which only recognizes traditional marriage as defined by the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Some of the main areas of concern pointed out by Battista include:
· Federal income taxes cannot be filed jointly by IL civil union spouses. Federal filings will need to still be done separately with individuals designated as "single."
· Social security benefits are federal, so they are unavailable for those in civil unions.
· Federal employee benefits and pensions will not be available to partners, even if the spouse is employed at a federal agency in Illinois.
· With regard to property, if someone owns property in another state that does not recognize civil unions, difficulties may arise for same-sex spouses unless they have made special legal arrangements.
· With regard to parental rights and child guardianship there are some areas where couples may be covered under Illinois law, but Battista stated that there are far greater areas for potential problematic concerns. She advises all couples to seek legal advice when entering into a marriage or civil union, but stresses this is especially important when children are involved.
When it comes to actually planning a civil union in Illinois, there is now a legal process for couples. For Chicago area residents, basic information is available on the Cook County civil unions website page. The website for Equality Illinois also has comprehensive information on their Civil Unions page. For the event celebration, there are many vendors in Chicago and across Illinois who welcome business from same-sex couples, including Wedding Creativo. Good online wedding planning resources for civil union celebrations include EngaygedWeddings.com, GayWeddings.com and RainbowWeddingNetwork.com.
It is worthwhile to mention that there may be certain businesses that may not be interested in providing services for civil unions. When we asked Battista about potential concerns regarding access to professional event services, she pointed out that while religious organizations are not bound to anti-discrimination laws (the law specific to sexual orientation anti-discrimination went into effect January 1, 2006 in Illinois), for the most part consumers should be protected by existing state laws. However, since the majority of wedding vendors are small business owners, the laws may be regarded as unduly burdensome in specific cases. So, it is advised to seek out companies that welcome same-sex civil unions.
Because same-sex marriage is still a controversial issue for some citizens in Illinois, it is possible that future legislation in opposition of the new law may arise, so it is important for same-sex couples to stay informed about their rights.
Also, while attention around the new law is being focused on same-sex couples, it is also available to opposite sex couples. Battista said that a civil union may actually be more beneficial for certain opposite-sex couples than a traditional marriage, especially in the case of widowers who are now entering into a new committed relationship.
For more legal information about traditional marriage and civil union planning, couples may contact Catherine Battista directly at (847) 628-8305 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The Argento Law Group office is located in Elgin, IL.
Tomorrow, June 2, many couples are expected to take part in the City of Chicago's civil union ceremony celebration in Millennium Park at 10:00 a.m.
Article written by and © Sarah Toulouse, Wedding Creativo