The Illinois Senate will vote today, Valentine's Day, on the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, if everything goes as planned. Before the bill becomes law, of course, the House must pass it and the governor must sign it. Thirty days after that signing, all state laws regarding marriage will apply equally to marriages of same-sex and different-sex couples and their children.
As the legislative summary reminds us, the law will grant all married couples "the same benefits, protections, and responsibilities under law." For both proponents and opponents of the measure, it is easy to focus on either the benefits or the protections or the responsibilities that marriage confers on a couple. The law makes it clear that a couple cannot have one without the others.
Illinois already recognizes civil unions for same-sex couples, and this law would not change that. The law would, however, allow couples who entered into civil unions in this state to convert their civil union to a marriage. For the first year the new law is in effect, couples can have their civil union converted to a marriage without having to pay a fee. After that, the couple must apply for a marriage license and have the marriage solemnized.
However, it should be noted: Parties to a civil union must dissolve that civil union before they can marry others. Civil unions are not wiped off the map if this law passes. The legal ties will remain, and that means neither partner is free to marry someone else until those ties are formally severed.
The act also lifts the restrictions on Illinois laws recognizing same-sex marriages from other states. The only caveat is that the marriage must be recognized by the state where it was entered into. Until the U.S. Supreme Court settles issues regarding same-sex marriage laws elsewhere, though, just how this reciprocity will work is not entirely clear.
Source: CNN, "Illinois Senate to vote on same-sex marriage bill on Valentine's Day," Michael Martinez, Feb. 14, 2013
We help individuals, couples and families in the Libertyville, Illinois, area with questions about the marriage laws discussed above. If you are interested in learning more about our practice, please visit our website.