A bill legalizing same-sex marriages has passed the Illinois House and Senate. The law will make Illinois the 15th state in the country to sanction same-sex marriage, along with the District of Columbia.
Below are answers to some questions about what the same-sex marriage law will mean in Illinois:
Q: What is the difference between marriage and civil unions?
A: Civil unions are a political compromise that some states have used to grant spousal rights to same-sex couples. In Illinois, civil unions are allowed for same-sex and heterosexual couples. In Illinois, civil unions allow tax relief, emergency medical decision-making power and the right to control disposition of remains, among other things. But the confusion about civil unions can cause couples to be denied benefits or treated differently. Legalizing same-sex marriage will do away with the distinction.
Q: Will same-sex marriages from out of state be recognized in Illinois?
A: Yes. Marriages that were legally entered into in other states and countries will be recognized here.
Q: Will same-sex marriages in Illinois be recognized by the federal government?
A: Yes. The federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as between one man and one woman, was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year.
Q: Are there other states that will recognize an Illinois same-sex marriage?
A: Yes. Those states are California, New Jersey, Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, Washington, Delaware, Minnesota, Rhode Island plus the District of Columbia.
Q: What will happen to existing civil unions?
A: The new marriage law does not change the existing civil union law. Civil unions will still be available to same-sex and heterosexual couples.
Same-sex couples who want to convert their civil union to a marriage can do so, with or without performing a new ceremony, for up to one year from the date that the marriage law takes effect. Those couples will be exempt from paying a fee. The date of the marriage will be recorded as the date of the original civil union.
Couples who wait longer than one year will have to perform a new ceremony and pay a fee.
Q: When would the new law take effect?
A: The law will go into effect June 1, 2014 at which time county clerks can begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Illinois requires a one-day waiting period for marriages, so the earliest a ceremony could be held is June 2.