Employers in Illinois that have not done so may need to adjust their plan documents to reflect the new legality of civil unions in that state. Civil unions are legal in Illinois, Hawaii and New Jersey — and will be available in Delaware next year.
The Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act went into effect June 1, allowing opposite-sex and same-sex couples to enter into civil unions in Illinois, writes John Iekel, managing editor for Thompson Publishing’s Domestic Partners: An Employer’s Guide and the Employers Handbook: Complying with IRS Employee Benefits Rules. Gov. Pat Quinn (D) had signed the measure into law on Jan. 31.
Under the new Illinois law, those who enter into civil unions in that state have all the legal rights and responsibilities — under Illinois state law — of couples who are married. This includes:
- automatic hospital visitation rights
- the ability to make emergency medical decisions for partners;
- the ability to share a room in a nursing home;
- adoption and parental rights;
- pension benefits;
- inheritance rights; and
- the right to dispose of a partner’s remains.
The Delaware Civil Unions and Equality Act of 2011 will go into effect Jan. 1, 2012. State Sen. David Sokola (D) and State Rep. Melanie George (D) sponsored the measure in their respective chambers of the Delaware legislature, and Gov. Jack Markell (D) signed it into law on May 11.
The Delaware measure differs from the other states’ laws in that it only applies to same-sex couples; an amendment that had been proposed that would have allowed opposite-sex couples to enter into civil unions, too, was defeated.
Under the new Delaware law, same-sex couples who enter into a civil union in that state after Dec.31, 2011 will enjoy the same rights, protections and obligations that exist for married spouses under Delaware law.