Although the Illinois civil union law has for the past 2 years provided that any couple, regardless of their gender could be provided a civil union, same-sex couples did not get part take in the benefits of marriage itself.
Under the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”) signed into law in 1996, the federal government did not recognize same-sex civil unions or marriages. Therefore, same-sex couples were not afforded the same federal benefits as all other couples. Such benefits include tax breaks, immigration benefits, an award of the other spouse’s social security, pension and retirement benefits and employed provided healthcare.
With the fall of DOMA in 2012 and the Supreme Court’s majority decision United States v. Windsor, 570 U.S. 12, suddenly for all federal purposes marriages were recognized. However, each state is allowed to decide whether or not to recognize civil unions. Each state is allowed to construe the Windsor decision in a way that they so choose. Illinois decided to recognize civil unions, and as such enacted the Illinois Marriage Fairness Act.
Under the Illinois Marriage Fairness Act, couples who previously entered into a civil union will be able opt-in for an automatic conversion to marriage status simply by signing a marriage license issued by one of Illinois’ county clerks.
Section 65 of the new Act states that “[u]pon application to a county clerk, the parties [to a civil union] shall be issued a marriage certificate. The parties’ signatures on the marriage certificate and return of the signed certificate for recording shall be sufficient to convert the civil union into a marriage.” Better yet, the law prescribes that “[t]he fee for application for a marriage license shall be waived in such circumstances.”