After what most are hailing as an historic vote in the legislature on Nov. 5, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn said he will sign the legislation that legalizes same-sex marriage in the state. When Quinn follows through, the right to marry regardless of the spouses' genders will have been approved in 15 states and the District of Columbia.
The new law will go into effect in June 2014. After that, the state will recognize a marriage between "2 persons" rather than between "a man and a woman" as long as it is "licensed, solemnized and registered" as required by state law. The new law also makes it clear that all state laws that apply to marriage apply to marriages regardless of the genders of the spouses. That means that same-sex married couples and their children will have the same rights and responsibilities as opposite-sex couples and their children.
Illinois legalized civil unions for same-sex couples in 2011. That law includes much of the same language as the new one: Parties to a civil union have the same legal obligations, protections, benefits and responsibilities that spouses have. Just as a married person must divorce before he or she can remarry, a partner in a civil union must have that union dissolved before he or she can enter into another civil union or marriage.
So what is the difference?
The difference is the word "marriage." Marriage is a term fraught with meaning in society and in the law. Not every state recognizes same-sex marriage, of course, but fewer states recognize civil unions. A marriage certificate is more portable than a certificate of civil union; married couples are married couples. State laws are less clear about how to treat couples in civil unions.
There is more, of course, and we'll get into that in our next post.
CBS Chicago, "Illinois House, Senate Pass Same-Sex Marriage Bill," Nov. 5, 2013
Illinois 98th General Assembly, 2013-2014 Session, Senate Bill 10 as enrolled, accessed online on Nov. 7, 2013