Illinois House Bill 1826: Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act

Fact Sheet About House Bill 1826/the Illinois: Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act

Many people do not know that opposite-sex, same-sex and senior couples in Illinois can be denied the basic rights to make emergency health care decisions for their partners, to visit their partners in hospitals, to share a nursing home room, or even to make funeral arrangements after a partner passes away. This is wrong Illinois has an opportunity to provide basic rights to all committed couples.

The Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act helps establish basic fairness by extending state-level legal protections and responsibilities of marriage to all committed couples in Illinois. Under the Act, civil unions would be open to all adult couples (including opposite-sex, same-sex and senior couples) and afford these couples the state-level protections and responsibilities essential to all families.  The legislation also preserves the separation of church and state and ensures that religious denominations are not forced to recognize or sanctify relationships they oppose.

What protections and responsibilities are offered?
  • Emergency medical decision making
    For people in a committed relationship, nothing is more important than being able to make critical health care decisions when a partner is unable to do so.  Nothing demonstrates this need more than the experience of Larry M., of Springfield. Emergency room staff would not allow Larry to make critical care decisions for his unconscious life partner when the hospital could not locate paperwork.  This forced Larry to leave his partner’s bedside to go home to look for documents.  While he searched for copies, his partner passed away.

  • The right to make funeral arrangements and control disposition of remains
    Lynn S. of Champaign struggled to care for her partner Linda as she battled a fatal liver disease. When Linda died, Lynn was denied the right to make arrangements for Linda’s cremation, despite their long, committed relationship. 

  • The right to share a nursing home or hospital room and hospital visitation rights
    Randy W. of Springfield served his country in the U.S. Army. Sadly, Randy’s life partner Curt was admitted to a Springfield hospital with an illness that would take his life. Randy was denied the ability to spend the night in the hospital alongside Curt -- a privilege most people take for granted -- and was not notified by the hospital when Curt’s condition took a turn for the worse. As a result, Randy nearly missed saying goodbye to his life partner as Curt took his final breaths.

  • State spousal benefits                                                       
    Many widows lose their pensions – which they need to maintain quality of life – if they remarry.  Civil unions would give opposite-sex and same-sex couples, including seniors, the benefits and legal recognition they deserve without forcing anyone to lose pension benefits.  In addition to spousal pension coverage, House Bill 1826 would also help Illinois residents in committed relationships receive workers’ compensation and the privilege of sharing a nursing home room. 

Pam V. of New Berlin, IL is a widow whose late husband Scott worked for the Illinois School for the Deaf in Jacksonville, IL.  Scott died as the result of a liver transplant leaving her with a college age son and pre-teen daughter to support.  Pam currently receives Scott's State of Illinois pension. Unfortunately, she would lose these pension benefits if she ever remarried. However, a civil union would allow her to maintain her pension and financial security, as well as protect her children's financial future.

  • Clear procedures and laws for committed couples
    These include the rights to annulment and invalidity, separation and dissolution, maintenance, and disposition of property. Couples in civil unions would also be able to bring civil action dependent on spousal status, including wrongful death actions and emotional distress claims.

  • Domestic violence protections

  • Tax relief for partners at the state and local level

How would one get in and out of a civil union?

The Act opens civil unions to all adult couples, whether of the opposite or same sex.  Applicants for a civil union would have to obtain a license and register their union. Civil Unions are serious commitments. All current procedures and rules applicable to invalidity (a.k.a. annulment), dissolution (a.k.a. divorce), and property division would equally apply to partners in a civil union.

How would civil unions in Illinois impact the laws of other states and the federal government?

The Act is simple and legally sound. It would allow Illinois to recognize civil unions performed in other states. It would not impact federal marriage laws or grant federal marriage benefits.

How would Illinois’ faith community be impacted?

House Bill 1826 specifically and emphatically protects religious institutions from being compelled to sanction a union that they oppose as a matter of faith.   Section 102 states:

“Nothing in this Act shall be construed to interfere or regulate religious practice of the many faiths in Illinois that grant the status, sacrament, and blessing of marriage under wholly separate religious rules, practices, or traditions of such faiths.  Additionally, nothing in this Act shall be construed to require any religious body, Indian Nation, Indian Tribe, Native Group, or officiant thereof to solemnize or officiate a civil union.”