The following question was submitted to John Roska, an attorney/writer whose weekly newspaper column, "The Law Q&A," ran in the Champaign News Gazette.
Now that same-sex marriage is legal, is there any reason to get a civil union? Does anyone still get one?
Legally, there’s no difference between a marriage and a civil union. Civil partners have the exact same legal rights as spouses. There’s no legal reason to prefer one over the other.
Psychologically, one may feel different. For personal reasons, then, couples may prefer one rather than the other. If you prefer a civil union, you can still get one.
Because a civil union is the legal equivalent of a marriage, it’s not a strategy to avoid losing benefits through remarriage. For example, Illinois law says that spousal maintenance (“alimony") terminates upon remarriage. It should also terminate upon getting a civil union.
Illinois created civil unions in 2011, and legalized same sex marriage in 2014. Previously, Illinois had outlawed same-sex marriage in 1996, shortly after the federal Defense of Marriage Act prohibited same-sex spouses from receiving federal benefits. In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court held that state laws prohibiting same sex marriage were unconstitutional.
Civil unions are between 2 people, “of either the same or opposite sex.” The only difference between the eligibility requirements for a civil union and for a marriage is that 16- or 17-year-olds can’t enter into civil unions, even with parental consent.
The procedure for getting a civil union is nearly identical to getting married. You apply for a certificate of civil union, wait at least one day, and have the civil union “certified.” Anyone who can solemnize a marriage can certify a civil union. They then complete the civil union certificate, and must file it with the County Clerk in 10 days.
Any civil union can be converted into a marriage (but not vice versa). It just requires getting a marriage license, and having the marriage “solemnized and registered.” When you already have a civil union, there’s no fee for the license.
Just like marriages, civil unions are dissolved under the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act. A civil union is therefore no easier to get out of than a regular marriage.
The legalization of gay marriage has definitely reduced the demand for civil unions. In 2012, the first full year civil unions were available (and gay marriage was not), Champaign County certified 72 civil unions. In 2016, only 5 were issued.
Before the state of Illinois offered civil unions or same-sex marriage, the City of Urbana offered “domestic partnership” registration. Since 2005, for $25, any 2 single adults could register with the City Clerk as domestic partners. That may qualify a partner for health insurance from some employers, and provide other benefits, but it’s not the legal equivalent of a marriage, or a civil union.
In 2005, when they first were available, 53 partnerships were registered. Until recently, there were about 20 per year. In 2016, there were 12.
A domestic partnership can be terminated upon one spouse filing the required affidavit, and paying $15. Of the 236 partnerships registered in Urbana since 2005, 43 have been terminated.