Jul 6, 2013 | Civil Unions

The issue of gay marriage, an increasingly controversial topic, has become an even hotter topic in recent news. Recent Supreme Court decisions have made provisions for gay couples to be recognized as married in California, making them as equal in status as heterosexual couples. Supporters for gay marriage believe that marriage is a civil right for all, whereas those opposed believe marriage is between a man and a woman. In Illinois, the state legislature has still not passed a bill that would legalize gay marriage, though civil unions are legal. However, civil unions and marriage are two different things.

According to law, marriage is defined as a voluntary union between two persons recognized at all government levels. It provides a whole range of protections and rights at the federal level such as Social Security, the right to take leave from work to care for a family member, sponsoring your spouse for immigration purposes, and others.

A civil union is defined as a legal relationship between two persons of the same or opposite sex. This may sound similar to a definition of marriage, but the difference is in terms of protections and rights. Current federal laws don’t recognize couples in a civil union, which means that those couples won’t receive the federal benefits listed above. As a result, couples in a civil union are left with the following:

· Must pay federal estate taxes when inheriting their partner’s property

· Do not have immigration rights for a foreign partner

· Cannot file a joint federal tax return

· Cannot receive Social Security payments when their partner dies

However, some rights can be granted. The rights in a civil union include:

· Hospital visitation rights

· Medical decision-making power

· Equal tax treatment at the state and local levels

· Recognized as legal guardians if they have children

A couple that wants to apply for a civil union pays a similar fee to that of a couple wanting to apply for a marriage license. They must receive a license from the county clerk within the jurisdiction where the civil union will take place, must get a public or religious official to officiate the ceremony (religious organizations can decide whether or not to approve of the civil union), and the county clerk must approve the union within ten days of the ceremony.

The Supreme Court decision to overrule the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 will now give same-sex couples federal benefits and allow for gay marriage to resume in California. However, gay marriage is legal in only 13 states (including District of Columbia) out of 50 and civil unions are legal in only 9 states. As far as Illinois goes, couples that are in a civil union will be left with what they already have; only if gay marriage becomes legal can they start applying for a license that will now give them the benefits that the highest court has just granted.

For more information on civil unions, feel free to contact the Law Office of Bradley R. Tengler in Rockford, IL at 815-981-4859. Please note, the above does not constitute legal advice. Please discuss your specific rights with an attorney in your own jurisdiction.

Source: Huffington Post “Hollingsworth v. Perry Ruling Made By Supreme Court”, June 26, 2013