American society is in a constant state of change – especially the field of family law. Just a decade ago, same-sex couples could only dream of getting married in most of the United States. Today, homosexual and heterosexual couples alike have the right to marry in 37 states.
Illinois was the sixteenth state to grant same sex couples the right to marry.Under this law, all married couples have the same rights and obligations in Illinois. The same laws that govern divorce and related issues such as spousal maintenance, child custody, child support, and property division apply to homosexual and heterosexual couples. This is in contrast to civil unions, which are available to all Illinois couples as well. Although civil unions afford many of the same rights that marriages afford to individuals, there are certain key rights that they do not cover.
The Differences Between Marriage and Civil Unions
Civil unions are only recognized at the state level, while marriages are recognized federally. That means that the rights a couple in civil unions enjoy may vary from state to state and only apply in the states that recognize these benefits. Federally-mandated rights for married couples may be enjoyed throughout the country. These rights include certain tax and Social Security benefits and the right to divorce in any state.
In Illinois, civil unions provide couples with the following rights:
- The right to jointly own property. Property acquired after the civil union began is presumed to be owned collectively unless otherwise specified. If the couple decides to end the union, the court may divide this property between the parties in the same manner it would divide property among a married couple.
- The right to make medical decisions for one’s partner in cases where the partner is incapacitated.
- The right to share a nursing home room.
- The right to file a wrongful death claim on behalf of one’s partner.
- The right to file a workers’ compensation claim on one’s partner’s behalf.
- The right to gather one’s partner’s pension benefits after death.
- The right to acquire one’s partner’s property if a valid will is not in place.
The Road to Marriage Equality
The right for same-sex couples to marry came after years of campaigns and political action from activist groups and their supporters. The following groups were involved with this process:
- Lambda Legal;
- Freedom to Marry;
- Equality Illinois;
- Illinois Unites for Marriage; and
- American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois.
A 2013 poll showed that approximately 50 percent of Illinois voters were in favor of marriage equality in the state.
Contact a DuPage County Family Attorney
For more information about the marriage, civil union, and divorce laws that may affect you and your family, contact Abear Law Offices to discuss your case with one of our firm’s experienced Wheaton family attorneys. Our firm proudly serves DuPage County and will give your case the care and attention to detail it needs.