It may not be long before LGBT couples in Illinois have access to marriage for the first time. For many couples, that will mean a whole new set of questions and issues.
Windy City Times has been gathering questions from readers over the past few weeks. We posed them to the experts at the American Civil Liberties Union, one of the main organizations in the fight for equal marriage in Illinois.
Here's what they said:
Will civil union couples automatically be entered into a marriage?
ACLU: Couples with civil unions will have two options. They may have a marriage ceremony to convert their civil union into a marriage. To do so, they will apply for a marriage license, have their marriage solemnized in a religious or civil ceremony and then register the marriage. (The law provides that the fee for the marriage license is to be waived in these circumstances.)
Alternatively, if a couple in a civil union would rather not go through a new ceremony, for one year following the date that the marriage law becomes effective, they can simply have their civil union designated as a marriageagain, at no feewith the date of the marriage to be recorded as the date of the original civil union.
When would the law take effect?
ACLU: Thirty days after the bill is signed into effect by the Governor."
Will civil unions still exist if the marriage bill becomes law?
ACLU: Yes. The marriage bill does not change the civil union law. They will still be available for couples (same-sex and different-sex) who choose this option.
If a couple lives in Illinois but already entered into a civil union or domestic partnership together in another state, can they get married in Illinois?
ACLU: Yes. You can get married in Illinois even if you and your partner entered into a civil union or domestic partnership in another state.
Are there benefits to converting civil unions into marriages?
ACLU: The most important benefit for couples currently in a civil union will be to put an end to the second-class status given to same-sex couples by denying them marriage but offering them something separate and poorly understood. Designating same-sex couples as "not good enough" for marriage is bad enough, but it also invites discrimination against them. Also marriage will end the confusionand regular lack of recognitionof civil unions in Illinois. Our clients in the lawsuit recount numerous times when someone has not understood what it means for a couple to be in a civil union under Illinois law. That confusion will be addressed and rectified by the ability of couples to marry and be recognized as married under Illinois law.
Can out-of-state couples get married in Illinois?
ACLU: Yesthe law allows out-of-state couples to marry in Illinois, although the state law where they reside will determine whether their marriages are legally recognized in that state. We hope that many couples from across the Midwest and elsewhere will come to Illinois to marry once Illinois approves the freedom to marry for gay and lesbian couples.
Will out of state same-sex marriages be recognized in Illinois?
ACLU: Yes. The law provides that marriages legally entered into in other states will be recognized in Illinois. If you are already married, your marriage will now be recognized as a marriage, rather than just as a civil union. Marriages of couples transferring to Illinois from New York or Massachusetts will be legally recognized as marriages in Illinois.
Could a referendum overturn marriage equality in Illinois?
ACLU: Only the legislature can initiate referenda in Illinois to amend the Constitution to deny same-sex couples the freedom to marry. Three such proposed amendments have been filed by Illinois legislators this session. However, similar amendments to write discrimination into the Illinois Constitution have been filed for many years without moving forward, and we are confident that none of these amendments will be successful in achieving the required three-fifths majority in each house.
What will happen to the Lambda Legal and American Civil Liberties Union marriage lawsuits if equal marriage becomes law?
ACLU: If the legislature extends the freedom to marry to all couplesincluding same-sex couplesin Illinois, our client couples would be eligible to marry. That is the best news of all. It also would mean that the law we are seeking to challenge already would be altered in the way we seek. We would expect the lawsuit would be dismissed as moot at that point.
Will an Illinois marriage be recognized by other states?
ACLU: A same-sex couple who marries in Illinois will be recognized as married in those states that recognize the marriages of same-sex couples, a list we expect to continue to grow. In addition, some private businesses or other third parties outside of Illinois may recognize an Illinois marriage for their own purposes.
Will the federal government recognize an Illinois marriage?
ACLU: No. At this point, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) prohibits the federal government form recognizing marriages of same-sex couples in any state. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear Windsor v. United States (an ACLU case out of New York) challenging the constitutionality of DOMA. The case challenges DOMA's explicit discrimination against same-sex married couples by treating them as legal strangers for purposes of all federal statutes and programs. We should know the result of this challenge from the Supreme Court by the end of June, 2013.
Follow Windy City Times for the latest updates on the equal marriage fight in Illinois. The bill can viewed in full here: www.ilga.gov/legislation/BillStatus.asp.