It has been more than a year since same-sex marriages first started being legally performed in Illinois, but there is still a lot of confusion about the new laws and how they affect previously existing laws about marriage and domestic partnerships. Some same-sex couples who legally formed civil unions before same-sex marriage was legalized may wonder whether their unions are still binding, or whether they automatically converted into marriages
The answer to the first question is yes. The answer to the second question is no.
Civil unions that existed prior to the legalization of same-sex marriage in Illinois last year still exist today. Indeed, civil unions are still available as an option for those who want to legalize their union but don't wish to pursue a traditional marriage.
Before same-sex marriage was legalized, many people in same-sex couples saw civil unions as a way of formalizing their commitment, and not incidentally, securing many of the rights associated with marriage. However, many critics charged that civil unions were inherently unequal to marriage and did not provide all the rights that come with marriage. Their concerns were laid to rest with the legalization of same-sex marriage.
It's important to note that civil unions that existed before same-sex marriage was legalized in Illinois did not automatically dissolve once the law changed. Neither did they automatically change into marriages.
However, the state of Illinois did provide, for a limited time, an easy way to convert a civil union into a marriage. Until June 1, 2015, couples with a civil union can apply for a marriage certificate that will backdate the beginning of their marriage to the day they formed the civil union. They must apply to a county clerk, sign the certificate and return it to the clerk. There is no fee for this service, but again, it must be completed by June of this year.
There are many benefits that come with formalizing a relationship, whether it's through marriage or civil union. Some of these benefits may be noticeable right away, while others only make themselves known when one partner dies or if the relationship ends. Illinois attorneys with experience in the legal issues of same-sex civil unions and marriages can help explain this rapidly changing area of the law.
Source: ACLU.org, "Illinois Marriage Law - Frequently Asked Questions," accessed March 26, 2015