What falls under a civil union?

File photo of Illinois State Capitol building

December 2, 2010 2:51:00 PM PST
Once signed by Governor Pat Quinn, the state's civil union legislation will impact benefits, estate planning and healthcare.

State lawmakers passed it and Governor Quinn has said he will sign Bill SB1716. So what is a civil union?

While it isn't a marriage, the bill will have the effect of matrimony for same sex couples by offering them the right to enter into a civil union. For Robert Hickok and daughter Eleanor, civil union status will mean his family will be recognized as such even more in Illinois.

"Our family is just like the family down the street. We do all the same things. We want the same things for our children to grow up in a place where equality is for everybody," said Hickok.

Hickok and his partner, Brian Fletcher, have been together for 10 years and have adopted three children. The two, who are called "Daddy" and "Poppa" by their kids, held a commitment ceremony six years ago in Chicago. While they say civil union isn't perfect, it is a step.

"It will put a lot more of us out there... where people can see us being couples, and being in a relationship that is recognized by law," said Hickok. "Hopefully that will help to demystify some of the stereotypes people may have."

Hickok and Fletcher plan to take their children with them to Chicago City Hall for a civil union ceremony on July 1st when the status will be available to be entered into. Each father will be able to make life and death decisions about the other's health, share in the employment benefits of the other, and inherit wealth in the streamlined way married couples will. One tax lawyer says it would give families like the Hickok-Fletcher's nearly all the rights and benefits of marriage -- and, of course, the obligations.

"Once you have entered into this agreement and this legal arrangement, there is going to be legal requirements for termination of that arrangement," said Robert E. McKenzie, lawyer.

Illinois will join New Jersey as a civil union state. The U.S. Defense of Marriage Act will still bar the Hickok-Fletchers from receiving around 1,100 federal rights, including married-couple tax breaks and transfer of social security benefits.

"There could be fraud, just the same as there is fraud in marriage," said McKenzie. "It is a profound step, don't do it lightly."

Same sex marriage is offered in Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Washington, D.C.


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