Illinois Expands Civil Unions
The State of Illinois recently voted to allow civil unions for same-sex couples. The vote does not mean same sex marriage is legal in the state, only that same sex couples can now enter into a domestic partnership and enjoy many of the same legal rights that married couples currently have like making end-of-life decisions, handling probate matters, sharing nursing home rooms, and other important life issues.
Civil unions are not marriages and a couple will not get any of the federal rights granted to legally married persons. This means there are no Social Security benefits available if one member of the union dies. Couples in a civil union cannot file joint tax returns either.
One interesting part of the new equation in Illinois is the potential for some heterosexual couples to benefit from the law that permits them to establish civil unions too. In this case, it is likely that seniors in Illinois will be the group most able to benefit from the law change and utilize the benefits of a civil union as an alternative to traditional marriage. Under current laws, senior citizens who are already receiving a late spouse’s benefits from Social Security or a pension will lose all of the income from those sources as soon as they get remarried. The ability to create a civil union instead of a marriage will provide a way for senior couples to continue receiving their late spouse’s death benefits and still enjoy some of the legal rights married couples have too.
The vote to allow civil unions in Illinois was originally introduced to address the legal needs of same sex couples in the state. Whether or not a lot of heterosexual couples in Illinois will begin to choose civil unions over marriages even if there is no immediate financial benefit remains to be seen, but the law change does provide all couples in the state an attractive way to enter into domestic partnerships without incurring the full weight and responsibilities of marriage. It may take time to show up in the statistics, but the law change will probably result in fewer divorces in the state too, as civil unions can be vacated far more easily than marriages can be terminated