It's called a "civil union." Implicitly promising equality as a matter of state law, under the new act two persons - of either the same or opposite gender and both at least 18 years of age - may elect to enter into a civil union rather than a marriage.And those who do - as well as those who are already married, civilly unioned or united, domestically partnered or in some analogous status conferred by the laws of another state or country - will be entitled to all of the recognitions and benefits available under Illinois law to spouses, including that which is arguably the most important if and when the time comes: divorce.There appear to be only two differences - one of which is an inherent and likely intended consequence of the new law, and the other an extraneous and unavoidable one, whether contemplated or not. By creating a separate status equivalent or equal in nearly all respects to marriage, the act nonetheless is separate, and is not and does not provide for marriage, which remains available under Illinois law solely to persons of the opposite sex.The DOMA limits the application of the new act in significant ways, both by restricting the use and definition of "spouse" under federal law to two persons of the opposite sex and by permitting states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages from other states.
If, as is widely assumed, the primary intent of the new law is to provide same-sex couples with the same rights and benefits afforded to opposite-sex couples under the state's laws, it has accomplished just that.
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This produces a conflict between state and federal law where benefits, rights and interests of spouses - in areas such as taxation, social security, retirement or health care benefits from employer plans governed by federal law, immigration benefits, and the like - depend upon the marital relationship, the federal designation of spouse, or both.
This article examines the new law, which takes effect June 1, 2011, in both contexts: first, its structural elements and application as a matter of state law, using marriage and dissolution (the IMDMA) as the measure; and second, the inherent conflicts or limitations in its application in all respects, specifically the unavoidable and significant impact of federal law on the union both while intact and upon dissolution.