Civil Union Conversions and the History of Same-Sex Marriage in Illinois

Civil Union Conversions and the History of Same-Sex Marriage in Illinois

By M. Scott Gordon

When it comes to the story of civil unions and same-sex marriage in Illinois—and indeed, across the country—the history is not a particularly long one. According to a recent article in the Chicago Tribune, now is an important time to reflect upon the ability for same-sex couples to convert civil unions into marriages in our state, and to consider what this means for equal justice in the Chicago area. Why is now a significant time for reflection? As the article points out, Cook County recently issued the 10,000th same-sex marriage license. Why is this a meaningful number? In short, it encapsulates many of the same-sex couples who decided to convert their civil unions to marriages once the law permitted them to do so, and it also reflects the gaping number of couples who were previously denied rights available to heterosexual couples.

A Brief Illinois History of Legally Recognized Civil Unions Between Same-Sex Couples

Until 2014, same-sex marriage was not legal in Illinois, and residents of the Chicago area who had gotten married in other states in which same-sex marriage was permitted could not have their legal relationship recognized throughout the state of Illinois. Prior to same-ex marriage become legal in Illinois, same-sex couples could enter into a civil union. Under Illinois law, same-sex couples have been able to enter into a legally recognized relationship known as a civil union since June 1, 2011.

But as we reflect on the history of same-sex unions in Illinois, it becomes strikingly clear that same-sex couples have only recently acquired some of the same rights to which heterosexual couples have long had access. To be sure, prior to 2011, same-sex couples had no way to enter into a legally recognized relationship in the state of Illinois that came with the rights and privileges afforded to heterosexual couples in a legally recognized marriage.

Going Beyond the Civil Union

How did we get here? In terms of laws protecting same-sex couples throughout the country, a momentum in favor of recognizing legal relationships among same-sex couples began in 2013. On June 26, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court rule that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional in United States v. Windsor (2013). DOMA allowed states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages granted legally in other states. Yet this ruling did not expressly provide same-sex couples with the right to marry. At this point, same-sex couples had the right to a legally recognized union in Illinois known as the civil union.

At the time of the Windsor ruling, many Chicago area residents expressed joy and a hope that the Supreme Court’s decision would encourage Illinois to allow same-sex marriages in the state, according to a report from NBC 5 News Chicago. At the same time, however, certain members of the Chicago community disagreed with the Windsor decision. Indeed, the report cited Cardinal Francis George, who issued a statement that not only opposed same-sex marriage but went a step further in discussing the alleged “negative result of gender-free unions . . . here in Illinois.” On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states. By that point, Illinois had already been granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples for about a year. According to a press release from the Cook County Court, a large number of marriage licenses issued were to same-sex couples who wanted to convert their civil unions to legally recognized marriages.

Given that so many same-sex couples have converted civil unions to marriages and have applied for new marriage licenses in general since 2014, it is important to recognize how far we have come in a short amount of time. At the same time, there is still a long way to go when we consider the prejudices that continue to exist for same-sex couples in Illinois and across the country.

Contact a Chicago area Family Law Lawyer

If you have questions about filing for a marriage license after entering into a civil union, or if you have questions about civil unions in general, an experienced Chicago civil union attorney can help. Contact Gordon & Perlut, LLC today.