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Illinois civil union law put to the test on first day

Last Wednesday was the first day same-sex couples could register for a civil union license in Illinois. In a courthouse just a couple of hours south of Chicago, a handful of couples lined up in anticipation perhaps of long-awaited nuptials. In line with them were two same-sex couples who were seeking different rights under the new law.

They were filing for divorce.

The first same-sex divorce in Peoria County was filed at 8:31 a.m. It may well have been the first filing in the state. And the filing is a great illustration of what lawmakers had in mind when they passed the civil union law: They wanted to grant same-sex couples all of the rights and privileges that heterosexual couples have under the marriage laws.

Sadly, many of the provisions of both marriage and civil union laws kick in when the relationship ends.

The couple who filed at 8:31 has been married for five years. They tied the knot in Canada in 2006, about four years before they moved to Illinois, where they now share a house with their son. The civil union law allows Illinois to recognize civil unions solemnized in other jurisdictions.

In the past, neither partner would have any claim on property owned by the other. Now, the two must look at marital assets and come up with an equitable division of their property. And, when it comes to child custody and support issues, the couple should receive the same legal treatment under the law as heterosexual couples under similar circumstances.

While June 1, 2011 was not a happy day for the pair, their change in legal status may have helped to soften the blow. One partner told reporters that he didn't feel like a second-class citizen anymore.

Source: Peoria Journal Star, "Civil union law also allows for divorces," Michael Boren, 06/01/2011

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