Thursday, December 9, 2010

Beyond civil unions: What's next?

In nearly every way except for the title “marriage,” same-sex couples joined by a civil union will have state-level rights and benefits identical to those of a married couple. Those rights include state tax benefits, the ability to make medical decisions for a spouse in an emergency and the option of not testifying in criminal court about a spouse.

Typically, states offer about 300 benefits or special rights to married couples, says Jason Pierceson, a professor of political science and legal studies at the University of Illinois Springfield and co-author of "Same-sex Marriage in the Americas: Policy innovation for same-sex relationships". According to Equality Illinois, Illinois offers nearly 650 benefits and protections to married and now civil union couples.

While Equality Illinois will continue pushing for Illinois to call civil unions by the same name, the next real battles lie at the federal level, says Rick Garcia, political director for Equality Illinois.

Pierceson agrees, adding that married couples receive about 1,000 federal benefits. He says Illinois is the last progressive state, besides New York, to approve a same-sex couple recognition law, meaning the states are now firmly either anti- or pro-gay unions and unlikely to budge on the issue in the near future. According to the Human Rights Campaign, Illinois is the sixth state in the nation to offer civil unions while five states and Washington, D.C., allow gays and lesbians to marry.

Pierceson's comments were featured in a December 9, 2010, article in the Illinois Times.

Download a PDF of the article