The Illinois civil union law went into effect only a year ago, but it’s already clear that the law fails to protect same-sex couples and their children.
By excluding these families from marriage and relegating them to civil unions, the government has marked them as different and less worthy than other Illinois families—and that is exactly how others treat them.
That’s why Lambda Legal is suing on behalf of 16 same-sex couples who seek the freedom to marry in Illinois.
Here are some of the reasons civil unions are not enough:
1. Civil unions have to be explained and do not get the same respect as a marriage.
Only the word married conveys the universally understood meaning applicable to the lifetime commitment many couples make. Regardless of whether civil union and marriage offer the same Illinois benefits and obligations on paper, when government relegates same-sex couples to civil unions rather than marriage, it forces them to explain the difference at work, at school, in hospitals and elsewhere. Couples in civil unions and their children lose the respect and dignity that they deserve, and often are denied vital services because many people don’t understand what a civil union is.
2. Civil unions create more harm outside the state.
All same-sex couples in marriages or in civil unions are vulnerable when the travel because the federal government and some states still disrespect same-sex married couples. But problems are further compounded for a couple with a civil union. When a couple’s home state creates a separate status other than marriage, it makes them even more vulnerable within their state and when they travel to another state.
For example, Iowa respects marriages of same-sex couples, but Iowa law may leave couples in a civil union vulnerable in many circumstances, as Iowa statutes does not recognize civil unions expressly.
3. A separate and unequal status invites others to discriminate.
When the government decides one group must be segregated into a different institution under a different name, it marks them as inferior and invites others to discriminate against them, as well. As a result, same-sex couples face discrimination from employers, businesses, police, emergency room workers and others.
4. Civil unions break the promise of equality.
Our common birthright to liberty entitles all of us to the freedom to marry on equal terms. The highest courts in four states—California, Connecticut, Iowa and Massachusetts—have said that maintaining a separate legal status like civil unions for a minority, rather than treating everyone the same, is a violation of the constitutional promise of equality.