Monday, November 22, 2010

Progress back home

There’s progress planned for my home state of Illinois. The newly-elected Governor, Pat Quinn, wants a Civil Union law on his desk by the end of the year. It’s very clear-cut. The purposes, listed in Section 5, are pretty clear:

“…to provide adequate procedures for the certification and registration of a civil union and provide persons entering into a civil union with the obligations, responsibilities, protections, and benefits afforded or recognized by the law of Illinois to spouses.”

The law makes things clearer in its definitions:

"’Party to a civil union’ means a person who has established a civil union pursuant to this Act. ‘Party to a civil union’ means, and shall be included in, any definition or use of the terms ‘spouse’, ‘family’, ‘immediate family’, ‘dependent’, ‘next of kin’, and other terms that denote the spousal relationship, as those terms are used throughout the law.”

So, it’s pretty clear the intention is to create a separate-but-fully-equal marriage-like legal arrangement. Even dissolution is handled in the same way a dissolution of a marriage (Section 45).

Section 60 describes reciprocity:

“A marriage between persons of the same sex, a civil union, or a substantially similar legal relationship other than common law marriage, legally entered into in another jurisdiction, shall be recognized in Illinois as a civil union.”

In other words, a same-sex couple married in Canada or Massachusetts would no longer be married in Illinois—they’d be in a civil union instead. On the other hand, folks who are already in a civil union or similarly formally recognised relationship would have that relationship recognised in Illinois.

I think this section is unconstitutional. The Full Faith and Credit Clause of the US Constitution (Article IV. Section 1) requires states to recognise the public acts—like marriage—of other states. So, Illinois has no right to recognise a same-sex marriage as anything other than a marriage and civil unions as civil unions.

Regardless, this law could be an important step forward toward achieving full legal equality for gay and lesbian Illinoisans—as long as they’re already US citizens or permanent residents; this law would change nothing for bi-national couples.

So, civil unions are not marriage, nor are they truly equal to marriage when some people are excluded from participating in marriage simply because they’re gay. Because of this, some people are adamant that it’s “all or nothing”. Much as I’m an ardent advocate for full marriage equality, I disagree that it’s best to hold out for full equality.

There’s no proof that holding out will make full equality arrive any sooner. And what of the couples who are disadvantaged in the meantime? That’s why I so often say that civil unions are better than nothing, but something that will be a perfectly reasonable choice on its own once marriage equality is achieved.

I hope Illinois does this one good thing.

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