Are Illinois Civil Unions Legal in the US? What about Same Sex Marriages?

You’d think these would be easy questions to answer, but the law isn’t as simple as we’d like.

The Illinois Civil Union law says that Illinois is required to recognize all civil unions, as well as all marriages between persons of the same sex and any other “substantially similar legal relationship” other than common law marriage that two persons enter into outside of Illinois.

For example, if you participated in a same-sex marriage ceremony in another state and the marriage is considered valid in that state, then you are considered to have a civil union for the purposes of Illinois law.

The law also says that even if you live in another state, you can travel to Illinois for the purpose of obtaining a civil union and then return to your home state. You don’t have to be a resident of Illinois to get a civil union. So far, this is just like marriage, since we know couples often are married outside of their home state, and then return to their home state after the ceremony.

If you come to Illinois to get a civil union and then return home, we don’t know whether the Illinois civil union will be valid in your home state. Here’s where a civil union differs from a marriage. Of course, if you were married here, and returned to your home state, the marriage would be valid in your home state. But only a marriage between a man and a woman is legally recognized in all states, as opposed to a civil union.

Today the only states which have civil union or domestic partnership laws are California, Nevada, New Jersey, Washington, Oregon, Hawaii and Illinois. Four other states, Maine, Maryland, Colorado, and Wisconsin, give only limited recognition to same-sex couples and afford them only certain benefits and responsibilities of marriage.

So what does all that mean? It means that since most states don’t recognize relationships between same-sex couples, we don’t know what legal effect an Illinois civil union may have when partners return to their home states. Of course, one way around this is for couples to simply relocate to Illinois. Our winters aren’t great, but we have lots of nice people living here. However, if relocating to the Land of Lincoln isn’t likely, partners should consult with a lawyer in their home state.

If you’re wondering where same-sex couples can legally marry, right now it’s New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa and the District of Columbia. Partners who marry in one of these locations will be recognized as a legally married couple if they return to the following states, which all recognize out-of-state marriages of same sex couples: New York, New Mexico, and Rhode Island.

On the other hand, same sex marriage and civil unions are forbidden by constitution in these states: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin. Interestingly, same-sex marriage is banned by statute in Illinois (and Indiana).

Perhaps Illinois will become a destination capital for creating civil unions. And perhaps couples will consider relocating in Illinois because of the benefits of the civil union status.