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Why Aren’t Civil Unions Enough?
While civil unions in Illinois carry some important legal protections for LGBTQ families, they fall short of full equality.
Not Universally Understood or Recognized
While Illinois now treats couples who have a civil union as legally equivalent to a married couple, any trip outside the state’s borders will put such couples into a state of limbo. Lambda Legal advises couples who get a civil union to still make separate legal arrangements such as wills, powers of attorney, and second-parent adoptions, since other states may not respect the automatic next of kin and step-parenthood conferred within Illinois by civil unions. Lambda also has started a civil union tracker website to aid families who get civil unions, because experiences in other states have shown that families often need help, even within the state, to have their civil union rights respected and enforced. Because civil unions are a relatively new invention, there are many people who simply don’t understand what they mean.
No Federal Recognition
No state, even the ones that allow same-sex couples to marry, can confer upon a same-sex couple the 1138 rights and responsibilities that the federal government ties to marriage. Among these federal rights are social security survivor’s and spousal benefits, spousal veteran’s benefits, joint tax returns, some spousal benefits for federal employees, the ability to sponsor a spouse for immigration, and exemption from paying income tax on health insurance for the spouse. Because of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which is still in effect until it is overturned in court or repealed by Congress, these 1138 rights can only go to opposite-sex couples.
Civil unions are accounted for nowhere in federal law. In states that have done the right thing and recognized all citizens’ right to marry the person they love, LGBTQ couples’ marriages will automatically be respected at the federal level when DOMA is finally repealed. Not so for civil unions.
Second Class Citizenship
Civil unions also carry the sting of second class citizenship, as they are an institution that was invented specifically to grant some legal protection while denying the full recognition and respect that comes with the word “marriage.” How are the LGBTQ citizens of Illinois, particularly our much-abused youth, supposed to feel when we see our state government laboriously invent a new, parallel social institution, just to keep us separate, just to emphasize that our relationships are somehow less valid than marriages?
Join The Impact Chicago will never stop fighting until LGBTQ people win the full legal equality to which they are entitled, in marriage and in every other area.