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Illinois Civil Union Law Grants New Rights to Same-Sex Couples

This year, Illinois became the eleventh state in the nation to award formal recognition to same-sex relationships when it legalized civil unions. The unions will be available to both same- and opposite-sex partners.

The law will change the way committed same-sex couples are treated under Illinois estate planning , taxation and family law.

Although they will not technically be "married," civilly unionized couples will enjoy the same legal standing as married couples. The civil union law specifically states that partners must be provided the same "obligations, responsibilities, protections and benefits" as married spouses.

This change awards same-sex couples over 650 state rights they did not previously enjoy. Among other benefits granted by the new law, partners in a civil union will have the right to:

  • Inherit from a deceased partner
  • Be treated equally with married couples under Illinois estate tax law
  • Bring a lawsuit for a partner's wrongful death
  • Make emergency medical decisions on a partner's behalf
  • Take Family Emergency and Medical Leave when a partner is ill
  • Refuse to testify against a partner in court
  • File state and local taxes as a married couple

The new law also provides civilly unionized couples with the protections afforded by Illinois family law . Couples will be able to terminate their unions under the same laws that allow married couples to divorce, and will be entitled to determine property division and the custody and visitation of children under the law.

Civil Unions Spur Disputes Over Religious Freedom

The change, while lauded by many, has not been without significant controversy. Some groups claim that the civil union law infringes on their religious freedom.

The legislature anticipated this conflict and specifically included language in the civil union bill stating that the law is not intended to interfere with the religious practice of any group. In fact, the law is called the " Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act."

Questions have arisen over exactly how much protection the law affords to religious groups that refuse to recognize the new partnerships. One such dispute arose when the state severed its 50-year relationship with Catholic Charities after the organization stated it would not provide adoption and foster care services to civilly unionized couples.

Catholic Charities said the refusal was in accordance with its religious beliefs that children should not be placed in the homes of unmarried, cohabitating couples. The issue was taken to court, and a judge sided with the state. Catholic Charities is weighing an appeal.

Only time will tell the other impacts the new civil union law will have on Illinois citizens.

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