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What the Freedom to Marry Act is and what rights it affords you

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Signed into law on June 1, 2014, the Illinois Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act affords equal rights to both heterosexual and homosexual couples to not only enter into civil marriages, but to share in the benefits associated with being party to these relationships as well. The law reinforces an individual's rights to freely exercise their religious rights without fear of discrimination, though, as well.

It is widely accepted that government agencies consider the covenant of marriage to be representative of a formalized family unit. Therefore, in passing this law, gays, lesbians and heterosexuals involved in common law relationships are now allowed to enjoy more than 1,138 federal and 648 Illinois-specific rights and protections afforded to not only married couples, but their families as well.

Among some of these individual's newfound rights, there is the ability to claim veteran, life and health insurance spousal benefits. Additionally, in the event of a court case, a spouse is protected under the act from testifying against their spouse.

When it comes to making potentially life saving or ending medical decisions, the act also allows partners to render those important decisions. Automatic inheritance is also protected under the act, even in the absence of a will as well.

As far as the judicial system is concerned, parties to a relationship protected under this act also enjoy equal rights to not only jointly parent their shared child, but to adoption, foster care and visitation as well. And, if a spouse or child becomes ill, both the Family Medical Leave Act and unpaid leave options are available avenues for partners to take necessary time off.

When it comes to paying, both same sex couples and those in domestic partnerships are entitled to file their tax returns jointly and claim precisely the same benefits as married couples would. Additionally, in the event of a court case, a spouse is protected under the act from testifying against their spouse.

As a formally recognized relationship, if you or your partner separate with the intention of divorcing and have a custody issue, it will involve going through the legal system to address those issues. If you or someone you know is involved in either a same sex relationship or domestic partnership dealing either with a divorce or child custody dispute, a Chicago, Illinois, family law attorney can provide advice and guidance in your legal matter.

Source: EqualityIllinois.us, "What is the freedom to marry?," accessed March 24, 2017

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