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Civil Unions Come to Illinois

Posted by attorney Michael Craven

Recently, Illinois voted to allow civil unions for same-sex couples. The law awaits Governor Quinn's signature. Once enacted, the law will allow same-sex couples to partake in many of the rights that married couples currently enjoy, while leaving them just shy of actually being able to marry. These rights include making end-of-life decisions, handling probate matters, sharing nursing home rooms, and more. Some of the ways the civil union differs from marriage is the couple does not receive federal rights; therefore they cannot receive Social Security benefits if one person of the couple were to pass away. They also cannot file joint tax returns. An age group that is likely to choose civil unions over marriage is senior citizens. Seniors who are currently receiving a late spouse's benefits from Social Security or a pension lose that money if they remarry. However, engaging in a civil union allows them to keep that income while still obtaining some of the rights a marriage provides. One potentially unintended consequence of this law is that civil unions may reach beyond same-sex couples and provide some heterosexual couples with an alternative to marriage. Time will tell if heterosexual couples will opt for a civil union over marriage unless there is a financial benefit, however I would be surprised if some long-term couples who have never gotten married didn't take advantage of this new offering. It's a new way to enter into a domestic partnership without the weight of marriage. It will be interested to see how civil unions in the state of Illinois affect marriage, divorce, and partnerships in general.

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