Nancy Polikoff

Illinois legislature passes civil unions: different-sex couples also eligible

Filed By Nancy Polikoff | December 01, 2010 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: domestic partnership, Illinois, New Jersey, opposite sex couples

The Illinois Senate has passed a civil union bill. The House passed it yesterday, and ht47civilUnion.jpgthe governor has said he will sign it, so it's a done deal. When it becomes law the status will be available to both same-sex and different-sex couples.

Only Nevada and the District of Columbia have created a status that is also open to different-sex couples (both jurisdictions called the status "domestic partnership" but because it extends to those who register virtually all of the state-based legal consequences of marriage it is the same as what others states call a "civil union."). The Hawaii civil union bill which was vetoed earlier this year by the state's Republican governor also included different-sex couples.

Colorado allows different-sex couples to register as "designated beneficiaries" (as well as any two unmarried people), and that gives some of the important legal consequences of marriage, like the right to inherit without a will and the right to sue for wrongful death, but it gives nowhere near all the legal consequences of marriage. (I like this status because those who sign up can choose their own legal consequences.)

California and Washington also allow different-sex couples to register, but only if one partner is 62 or older. (This is supposedly to protect benefits that might be lost if a recipient remarried, but the specific age chosen - 62 - does not actually correspond to any legal consequence of remarriage, so go figure...)

If Illinois creates a critical mass and is a precursor of things to come, I say it's about time. We may well have come full circle to the impetus behind the first domestic partner benefits implemented in the 1980's; those benefits were available to gay and straight couples because their purpose was to make marriage unnecessary to protect the well-being of a loved one. When Vermont implemented the first "civil union" status but restricted it to same-sex couples, heterosexual feminists rightly complained that they were being inappropriately forced into marriage.

Yesterday, in writing about the DADT repeal recommendations, I noted that the report opposed creating a "same-sex relationship" status for gay servicemembers, in large part because it would appear unjust and unequal to differentiate between same-sex and different-sex committed couples.

Same-sex only civil unions send two messages: marriage is really special and different-sex couples should be required to marry to get any recognition; and same-sex couples are less worthy and can be cabined in a status developed just for them. I detest both these messages.

After Nevada passed its domestic partnership law, I spoke with some of the key players in that political process. They all said that including different-sex couples was virtually a given, that allowing heterosexuals access to domestic partnership was important to garner more widespread support and represented the value of equality.

To me, it's all about making marriage matter less as a legal status, and that's a good thing.

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IMO, no matter what your preference in life are, you should have the freedom to choose whatever path you wish to take in life. If you want to marry your domestic partner, you should be allowed to do so, as it's part of your own choice and your own freedoms.

How can we allow some people to marry because of love and not allow others? right... love knows no barriers - sex, race, culture etc.

Bonnie Smith
COO/Director FXP

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | December 2, 2010 2:41 AM

I think civil unions and civil or domestic partnerships are just the crumbs that bigots like the Clintons and Obama will grant us. All of those forms, if segregatged from marriage, constitute second class citizenship.

"I am not interested in picking up crumbs of compassion thrown from the table of someone who considers himself my master. I want the full menu of rights.” Desmond Tutu

The question will never be solved until Clinton's DOMA is repealed and DOMA will never be repealed by Democrats or Republicans.

Mazel tov! Civil unions for all - gay or straight. Let the churches marry them in religious ceremonies if they'd like, but give me a civil union any time from the government.

Somehow I'd think civil unions for ALL would include bi and pan and any other altersexual couples.

At least that would seem more intuitive than civil unions reserved just for gay or straight :-$