On June 1, 2011, Illinois granted same sex couples, as well as heterosexual  couples the right to enter into a Civil Union.  This was due to the Senate Bill 1716 which passed creating the Illinois Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act.  This law gives same sex couples the rights to state created rights and some of the obligations created with legal marriage.

The Civil Union Act (Hereinafter “The Act”) only grants some of the protections afforded to married couple.  Specifically, the Act grants same sex couples various rights, including decision making power for their partners that they did not have in the past. These rights include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Medical decisions
  • Hospital visitation rights
  • Health Insurance coverage
  • The right to dispose of a partners remains
  • The ability to share a nursing room home
  • Applies to some pension benefits
  • Access to the Domestic Relations Courts and laws

Without this Act, in the past, same sex couples faced hurdles in situations such as the hospital.  For instance, if their partner was sick, the ability to be present in the hospital room and make the necessary decisions for their partner would be in jeopardy.  However, now the Act, grants them the right to participate in these crucial decisions.

Glitz, Glamour and the Boom on the Wedding Industry:  Some may wonder how a couple obtains a civil union and surprisingly, it is very similar to obtaining a marriage license and thereafter getting married.  Specifically, a couple must obtain a license from the City Clerk, solemnize the Civil Union by exchanging vows before a secular or religious official and thereafter, register the union.

Currently, many same sex couples are opting for Civil Unions at a high rate.  The wedding industry for Civil Unions has capitalized on this new law and many wedding professionals hope more States will pass a similar law.  A quick search on Google will reveal numerous wedding advertisers for same sex couples and more seem to be popping up daily.  The wedding industry in general plays on people’s emotions for their big day and this coupled with the fact that same sex couples are finally able to solemnize their relationships, leads to many couples opting for large extravagant weddings.  This is great news for wedding planners, venues and event companies, as their business has started to increase at a rapid rate.    

The Elephant in the room: Potential Boom for the practice of Domestic Relations?  Clearly, no one wants to discuss the elephant in the room.  Specifically what happens to a couple if they do not work out, especially after an extravagant wedding and/or ceremony with friends and family?  The unfortunate reality is, like heterosexual couples, these things happen.  The Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act expressly prohibits recognizing same sex marriages (750 ILCS 5/212) and in the past, same sex couples did not have access to the Domestic Relations Court if their partnership did not work out.  Today, that has changed.  The Act now allows same sex partners that are breaking up to have access to the Domestic Relations Court to settle various disputes.   Since the Act only went into effect approximately four (4) months since the drafting of this article, Divorce lawyers have not seen a substantial increase in business from Civil Unions to date.   Within the next few years, many divorce attorneys predict that their business will increase substantially due to the break downs of Civil Unions. 

So what does one do if they feel their Civil Union may be coming to an end? Call us.

This post was written by Morgan L. Stogsdill: Family Law Partner