Civil Union FAQs

Today, Wednesday, June 1, 2011 marks an important date in Illinois LBGTQ history with the enactment of the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act.

If you and your partner are planning to enter, or are thinking about entering, into an Illinois Civil Union, Lambda Legal has put together some FAQs for what this new Civil Union law will mean, who can apply, how to apply, etc.

Q: What is a Civil Union?
A: Under Illinois’ new law, a Civil Union is a legally recognized relationship of two people entered into by applying for and obtaining a state license from a county clerk’s office, having a formal ceremony, and having a confirming certificate issued by the clerk’s office. A Civil Union can be entered into by both same-sex and different-sex couples. A couple in a Civil Union will receive all the legal benefits and protections, and be subject to the same legal responsibilities, as are provided under Illinois law to married couples. However, it is important to note that according to the law: a Civil Union is not a marriage. Illinois law continues to exclude gay and lesbian couples from marriage.

Q: When can my partner and I get a Civil Union?
A. The Civil Union law goes into effect today, Wednesday, June 1, 2011. However, please note that as of June 1, 2011 a couple may apply for a Civil Union state license, but ceremonies cannot be held until June 2, 2011.

Q: Are there any restrictions on who can enter into a Civil Union?
A: You may enter into a Civil Union with a same-sex or different-sex partner as long as you meet the following criteria:

  • Both parties need to be at least 18 years’ old
  • Neither party can currently be in a marriage or Civil Union (or substantially similar legal relationship)
  • Couple may not be related to each other by blood or by adoption

Q: My partner and I got married or entered into a Civil Union in another state, will we need to apply for an Illinois Civil Union still?
A: Same-sex couples who have already married each other or entered into a Civil Union in another jurisdiction do not need to enter a new Civil Union in Illinois. However, if you entered into a domestic partnership, in Wisconsin for example, which entails far fewer rights than a Civil Union; it is less likely to quality as an Illinois Civil Union. With a broad or comprehensive legal status from another state (i.e. Iowa, California), you do not need to take any additional steps to achieve recognition of your relationship as a Civil Union in Illinois. Your out-of-state status will qualify as a Civil Union in Illinois automatically. Those who have registered with an employer for domestic partner benefits or with a county or city as domestic partners must enter into a Civil Union if you would like the benefits, responsibilities, rights, and protections available to Civil Union partners.

Q: Neither my partner and I are legal residents of Illinois but we would still like to enter into an Illinois Civil Union, is this possible?
A: You do not need to be an Illinois resident in order to enter into a Civil Union in Illinois. However, please look into your state’s law to see whether an Illinois Civil Union will be recognized. In most cases, it will not.

Q: What steps do my partner and I need to take to enter into a Civil Union?
A: Both parties must appear in person to fill out an application for a license to enter into a Civil Union. Applications are available through any county clerk’s office. The cost of applying for a Civil Union license varies by county, and is usually in the range of $15 to $40. Bring with you a form of identification, such as a birth certificate, driver’s license, or passport.

If you previously have been married or in a Civil Union, you also should bring proof, in case the clerk asks to see it, that you are no longer married or in the prior Civil Union, such as a copy of your divorce or dissolution decree, or, if applicable, the death certificate of your deceased spouse or partner.

If you live outside of Illinois, the clerk may ask you to sign an affidavit stating that your home state does not prohibit you from entering into a Civil Union. The Civil Union license is valid for 60 days, and is valid only in the county in which it was issued, which means that your Civil Union ceremony must take place within that county. There is a one-day waiting period before the license becomes effective. A court can waive this waiting period if you file a petition showing sufficient cause.

You may choose a judge, certain public officials, or a religious official to “officiate,” meaning to perform your ceremony. Your officiant must complete the certificate confirming that your ceremony has been performed, and forward it to the county clerk within 10 days of your Civil Union.

A list of county clerks offices can be found at

Q: What rights and obligations will my partner and I have once entered into an Illinois Civil Union?
A: Each couple will need to adhere to Family Law Rights and Responsibilities, which include:

  • Duties of joint financial support and liability for family debts arising during the relationship
  • Access to step-parent and joint adoption on the same terms and using the same procedures as different-sex married couples
  • Legal presumption that both partners are parents of children born into the Civil Union. (However, it is still encouraged that non-biological parents to adopt your children in addition to drawing up wills and powers of attorney, since you may travel to other states that will not respect your Civil Union or the presumption of parentage it creates)
  • Dissolution of the Civil Union by a domestic relations court, including access to equitable division of the relationship assets and debts
  • Right to seek financial support upon breakup
  • Access to custody, visitation and support orders concerning children upon breakup
  • Protection for Civil Union partners and their children under domestic violence, crime victim, and crisis assistance laws.
  • Medical and Death-Related Rights
  • Automatic rights of hospital visitation, medical decision-making, and authority to receive information about a partner’s medical condition or treatment. (However, it is still encouraged that Civil Union partners to make out wills, living wills, and health care powers of attorney, since you may travel to other states that will not automatically respect your Civil Union or the rights it grants)
  • Automatic ability to authorize anatomical gifts autopsy, and release of medical records, and to make funeral arrangements for a deceased partner
  • Right to seek money damages for a partner’s wrongful death, lost financial support and companionship
  • Right to inherit in the absence of a will, and certain financial protections while the estate is being settled
  • Same financial protections spouses receive against duty to repay public medical and nursing home costs upon death of a partner
  • Employment-related spousal or family benefits, including spousal health insurance for public employees (although such benefits will still be taxable under federal law as income for the employee).
  • Right to file joint state income tax returns, and state tax exemption regarding value of partner health insurance
  • Right to hold real property in “tenancy by the entirety” (which offers some protection against creditors)
  • Some workplace benefits, including the right to a pension for the surviving Civil Union partner of a fireman or police officer, and where work injury causes death, funeral and burial expenses, and death benefits
  • Equal treatment as spouses under certain state insurance laws
  • Right not to testify against Civil Union partner
  • Right of an incarcerated person to phone a critically ill Civil Union partner
  • Same veterans benefits that are available to spouses under state law

All state law rights and responsibilities spouses receive through marriage, including many others too numerous to list here. For a full list, please visit

Q: What rights and responsibilities of a marriage are withheld from Civil Union partners?
A: The following rights are excluded from the Illinois Civil Union Act:

  • All federal rights and responsibilities, including social security survivors’ and spousal benefits, certain federal spousal employment benefits, the ability to file joint federal income tax returns
  • Exemption from income tax on domestic or Civil Union partner health insurance
  • Exemption from federal inheritance tax
  • Spousal protections in bankruptcy
  • Federal veterans’ spousal benefits
  • Authority to sponsor a spouse to immigrate
  • Automatic legal status in many other states that attempt to deny any recognition to the legal relationships of same-sex couples.

Q: Is my employer required to give my Civil Union partner spousal heath insurance, pension, and other employment-related benefits?
A: Government employers must provide Civil Union partners the same health insurance and pension benefits accorded to spouses. It may be more challenging, however, to hold certain private employers to their obligation to treat Civil Union partners equally to spouses with respect to health insurance and pensions, depending on what type of plan the private employer uses, and whether state and local nondiscrimination laws apply. If your private employer denies Civil Union partners equal access to health insurance or pensions, we encourage you to call our help desk so that we can help you determine what your options are. Regardless of whether you work for a public or private employer, federal law treats spousal health insurance benefits to Civil Union partners as taxable income to the employee. Putting health insurance and pensions aside for the moment, both government employers and most private employers must treat Civil Union partners equally when it comes to other employment-related benefits such as bereavement leave, paid parental leave, or spousal relocation policies.

Q: Is there any reason why my partner and I should NOT enter into a Civil Union?
A: It is not recommended to enter into an Illinois Civil Union if you meet any of the following criteria:

  • If you wish to adopt from a state or country that may not approve adoptions by lesbians, gay men, same-sex couples or unmarried different-sex couples
  • If one or both same-sex partners are in the U.S. military
  • If either depends on public assistance
  • If either is a foreign national without permanent legal status in the U.S.
  • If either or both do not want the state law rights and mutual responsibilities the new law will provide Civil Union partners, or are concerned about the open questions about how state law will interact with federal laws that do not recognize same-sex couples or unmarried different-sex couples.

Q: What happens if I need to dissolve my Civil Union or need a divorce from a marriage to a same-sex partner spouse that was performed in another state?
A: You will need to file a petition for dissolution of your Civil Union (note that a marriage to a same-sex partner is treated as a Civil Union under Illinois law) using the same procedures that spouses use to file for divorce. Civil Union partners will be eligible for maintenance (like alimony) and court assistance in allocating child custody, awarding visitation and support, and dividing property on the same terms as spouses.

If you have additional questions, a specific or unique situation, have encountered difficulty in obtaining appropriate recognition of your Civil Union status, or are looking for contact information for private attorneys who might advise you, contact Lambda Legal’s help desk toll-free at (866) 542-8336 or the Chicago office at (312) 663-4413, or visit

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16 Responses to “Civil Union FAQs”

  1. What happens to the Illinois Domestic Partnership? Is it still acknowledged? Does it automatically become a Civil Union? If not, can you be in a domestic relationship with one persona and a Civil Union with another?

    Posted by FRANCES TRINIDAD | June 2, 2011, 2:34 pm
  2. The Illinois Domestic Partnership is still acknowledged; however it does not include the same rights as a Civil Union. Those who have registered with an employer for domestic partner benefits or with a county or city as domestic partners must still enter into a civil union if they would like the benefits, responsibilities, rights, and protections available to civil union partners.

    To answer your second question, since legal papers were required to declare status as a domestic partnership, you will be unable to enter into a Civil Union with another party. Upon applying for a Civil Union, you would need to provide proof of a dissolution decree (similar to divorce papers for a heterosexual marriage) for the original Domestic Partnership prior to the Civil Union being approved.

    If you have any other questions, please let me know and I will try my best to answer them or put you in contact with someone at Lambda Lega. Thanks!

    Posted by Ashley | June 2, 2011, 2:50 pm
  3. Where exactly can a same sex marriage be performed? What state and town, ect…

    Posted by Amanda | June 7, 2011, 4:08 am
  4. What counts as “public assistance”? My partner has considered going on SSDI for various medical reasons. Does her option to do so change if we get a civil union?

    Posted by Naomi Nordine | July 20, 2011, 2:26 pm
  5. Naomi – I reached out to Lambda Legal regarding your question. If your partner is depending on public assistance, such as SSDI, it could change that option if you entered into a civil union. However, it is recommended that you reach out to a representative from Lambda Legal directly as each case could be treated differently based on specific circumstances.

    To reach out to someone at Lambda Legal, you can call their help desk toll-free at (866) 542-8336 or the Chicago office at (312) 663-4413.

    Posted by Ashley | July 26, 2011, 9:48 am
  6. If my boyfriend and I get an opposite sex civil union, would we be able to marry each other later? We are thinking of getting the civil union for medical reasons. We want to eventually marry, but our lives are not quite where we believe they should be in order for us to stand before God and become married in a church. Is there any other form of legal partnership in illinois that we could enter into that would give us medical advantages, such as making medical decisions, being recognized as next of kin, hospital visits during emergency, decisions after death, decisions if either of us were in coma, etc?

    Posted by Stephanie | August 1, 2011, 7:54 pm
  7. i think it’s supposed to be january 1st 2012. Just sayin

    Posted by Carlos | January 1, 2012, 9:12 pm
  8. never mind i thought it was 4 hawaii

    Posted by Carlos | January 1, 2012, 9:13 pm
  9. My partner an I have been together for 6 years we are thinking of either a civil union or driving to Iowa and getting married but we dont know what will be more helpful with his legal status he is an illegal immigrant and is a hardworking individual whom i love very much he left his country because it is so bad there the drug dealers come to his families home and take money. We dont know what to do to go about making him legal but we want to spend our lives together without the worry of deportation. so what is best civil union or gay marriage in a state like iowa that recognizes it and then what should we do to start the process.
    Thanks for your time.

    Posted by Doug | February 13, 2012, 12:36 pm
  10. this is between man and woman and it seems lik are goverenmont is discrimanating against marrage ilove the woman very much as she loves me we feel just goes against gods plan.

    Posted by john l tippy | March 14, 2012, 7:06 pm
  11. Do you have any information on Judges or Officiants that perform the civil union ceremony for free in Cook County?

    Posted by Jessica | March 22, 2012, 12:44 pm
  12. Unfortunatly I need to know if there is paperwork me and my wife can find online to dissolve our civil union in Illinios> We both live in Indiana and i saw were we can do this witout living in Illinios.. Can u plz help me wit this asap??? Cld u plz email any info about this…

    Posted by Stephanie Lampton | March 30, 2012, 11:27 am
  13. Hey Stephanie, and everyone else that has had questions on this page, I wanted to let you all know that there are some great and free resources that might help you with your questions. Lambda Legal as an online help desk where you can submit your questions. And Center on Halsted has a Legal Clinic that provides free and confidential information and referrals from local volunteer attorneys and legal organizations. You can set up a 45 minute session with a lawyer there.

    Hope that helps! And best of luck!

    Posted by Lisa Martinez | April 3, 2012, 2:25 pm
  14. When my partner and i have our civil union, will she be considered a step parent to my children? the same as if i were marrying a man?

    Posted by kelly | April 8, 2012, 6:02 pm
  15. It says civil unions are valid for 60 days. Does that mean after 60 days our civil union will no longer be valid. My girlfriend and I want a civil union before we can legally marry in June.

    Posted by Lynnlee | November 15, 2013, 1:58 pm


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