Now that gay marriage is legal in Illinois, what is the status of civil unions in the state?
In 2011, Illinois passed the Religious Freedom and Civil Union Act, which conferred most of the rights of marriage on parties to a civil union. Basically, the law created a status analogous to marriage, regardless of gender, to couples in Illinois. Couples, both homosexual and heterosexual, were allowed to enter into civil unions, which entitled them to all the recognitions and benefits available under Illinois law to spouses.
Then, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down key provisions of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Now same-sex couples that had been legally married in their states were able to gain access to all of the federal benefits of marriage.
Civil unions are legal contracts between partners that are recognized by a government as conferring some of the rights usually associated with marriages. In December, 2010, the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act was passed. Beginning in July, 2011, adults who are not related and who are of any sexual orientation were permitted to enter into a civil union, provided they were at least 18 years old.
The Chicago civil union attorneys at Nottage and Ward want you to understand your rights within civil unions.
The passing of the Illinois civil union law was a major step towards marriage equality for same-sex couples, and though the state has not reached the point of true equality just yet, it does seem to be significantly closer. According to USA Today, Illinois lawmakers may pass a bill legalizing gay marriage to the Governor’s desk as early as January, when the General Assembly reconvenes.
As dedicated civil union lawyers in Chicago at Nottage and Ward, we applaud the efforts of Representative Greg Harris and Senator Heather Steans, who have spearheaded the push towards the legalization of same-sex marriage in the legislature. While both decline to comment on the status of roll-call votes in each chamber, Steans claims that they are closer to “being able to get it done.” And if the trend in the nation is any indication, it seems even more likely that it will, in fact, get done. Not only did President Obama speak in favor of legalizing gay marriage, but four states have legalized gay marriage or voted down bans on it since the November election.
It did not take long for the inadequacies of the Illinois civil union law to garner support for true equality in the form of same-sex marriage. Now, during the Illinois legislature’s two-week veto session, lawmakers have the opportunity to push a gay marriage bill to be added onto a statewide ballot. According to BallotNews.org, such a push may happen as soon as this week, the first week of December.
Supporters backing the approval of such a bill include state Representative George Harris and Equality Illinois director of public policy, Randy Hannig. Both Harris and Hannig believe that statewide and nationwide support for same-sex marriage has grown in the past two years since the Illinois civil union law passed. In fact, the recent election included four states which supported same-sex ballot issues, such as the legalization of gay marriage and the defeat of measures banning gay marriage. This demonstrates a shift in the nation’s attitudes about same-sex marriage. But a proposal for the legalization of gay marriage is not the only legislation that may end up on the ballot.
It’s been made clear that the Illinois Civil Union Act has left much to be desired when it comes to true equality for same-sex couples under the law. It did not take long for the state’s ban on gay marriage to be challenged and now, a bill to legalize gay marriage may be considered as early as this month, according to an article in On Top Magazine, a gay advocacy website.
One of the bill’s sponsors, State Representative Greg Harris, told the Windy City Times that the bill, which was first introduced in February 2012, may actually come up for vote during the General Assembly’s upcoming veto, or lame duck session. He encourages supporters to contact their representatives to voice their support of the bill.
Two lawsuits, which were later combined into one, were filed by Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Illinois in May against Cook County, claiming the state’s ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional. The Cook County State’s Attorney, as well as the Illinois Attorney General, were in agreement with the lawsuits and refused to defend the state ban. Two county clerks were given the right to defend the state’s marriage law in this case.
Now, according to the Chicago Tribune, Illinois Family Institute, an organization that opposes gay marriage and, in fact, worked towards establishing the original ban, aims to intervene and assist in defending the ban in the absence of any state defense. An attorney working in support of the ACLU and Lambda Legal lawsuit claims that the Illinois Family Institute does not represent a large enough stake in the case to actually intervene. She argues that filing a “friends of the court” brief in defense of the state law would be more appropriate, both for the Illinois Family Institute as well as any other organizations that support the current ban.
The Democratic Party made big news when it adopted a presidential platform that embraces marriage equality for same-sex couples. Gay marriage has been the topic of much debate on a state and federal level and, for same-sex couples in Illinois, the issue has gone to court where a lawsuit against the State’s discriminatory marriage law is pending. While the law in Illinois gets sorted out, Illinois delegates are proud to support a political party that supports equal rights.
According to an article on WBNEZ.org, two Illinois delegates, a same-sex couple from Chicago, are very hopeful of the Democratic platform embracing gay marriage; not just because such a stance is a huge leap forward towards equality for all Americans, but because it hits very close to home.
As an experienced civil union attorney in Illinois, Jeffrey Knipmeyer recognizes that as the country moves closer to casting their votes for our next President of the United States, political party stances on key issues are going to have more weight when voters make their decision. One of the most controversial issues concerns gay marriage.
According to Politico.com, the Republican platform committee rejected an amendment that would have endorsed same-sex civil unions. The GOP holds its stance for a constitutional amendment that protects “traditional marriage” by maintaining the definition (as established in the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA) as between a man and a woman. Though a handful of Republican representatives spoke in favor of same-sex civil unions, they were overwhelmingly shot down by others in the party.
Twenty-five Illinois same-sex couples are named as plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed against the Clerk of Cook County at the end of May by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Illinois and Lambda Legal. According to Examiner.com, the lawsuit claims that the County’s refusal to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples is in violation of the due process and equal protection clauses of the state’s Constitution. This suit was filed after a judge allowed Cook County to defend the marriage law they used to justify refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
The marriage law in question was established in 1996, the same year the federal government established the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Both of these define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, thus discriminating against same-sex couples. Though more and more states are taking the next step to legalize gay marriage, ultimate equality cannot be achieved until the DOMA obstacle is overcome as well. With President Obama’s public support of gay marriage, this may be on the horizon.
Earlier this month, a judge ruled that two counties in Illinois could defend a 16-year-old state law that bans same-sex marriage, which gay marriage supporters hope will lead to the overturning of the law and, ultimately, the legalization of same-sex marriage, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Back in 1996, Illinois passed a law that defined marriage as between a man and a woman. Other states, as well as the federal government, have passed similar laws, much to criticism from the LGBT community, especially more recently as states have been moving away from such discriminatory laws. Recently, in Illinois, Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against a Cook County Clerk after his office used the 1996 law to justify refusing to recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages and refusing to marry gay couples.
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