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Civil unions and divorce: legal equality for everyone
Part of a series
by Roger McCaffrey
2013-01-01

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When the Civil Union Act was signed into law by Governor Quinn, everyone was rejoicing of the granting of all the legal benefits to same sex couples. For Beth and her ex-lover Janet, however, the joy of the new civil union law was not that they could enter into a legally binding relationship in Illinois — the joy was that they could finally end the legal relationship they created in Vermont in 2000.

In 2000, LGBT couples from all states could travel to Vermont, apply to Vermont town clerks for a civil union license and then receive a civil union certificate. Vermont intended that the legal status granted to LGBT couples was to be parallel to civil marriage. But it only worked while in Vermont.

Relationships change and it changed for Beth and Janet, who now live apart. In 2006 they split. Now ready to move into new unions and marriages, they discovered they could not terminate their Vermont civil union in Illinois. Illinois did not allow them to "divorce" under Illinois law. The only way for Janet and Beth to terminate their Vermont civil union was for one of them to move to Vermont and meet the residency requirement of living there for one year. They couldn't afford to move back nor did they want to. So they stayed together legally.

People change and grow, people can create ugly disasters and people make mistakes — what seemed like a good idea at one point in someone's life may not be the same great idea years later. The new civil union law in Illinois provides a legal fix for the mistakes. It allows judges to grant legal dissolution of unions and make declarations of invalidity of a civil union, and decree that a marriage between persons of the same sex, a civil union, or a substantially similar relationship (other than a common law marriage), legally entered into in another jurisdiction, can be dissolved here in Illinois.

Now Janet and Beth — as well as all the other LGBT couples who have marriage licensees from other states and countries — can have the benefit of Illinois' law and courts to terminate their legal ties — to unwind the mistakes and fix the bad ideas. This gives a real sense of equality to LGBT couples so they know they won't end up in legal limbo if their relationship changes.


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