Illinois Civil Unions: What are the legal benefits of a civil union?

Understanding Civil Unions in Illinois

In Illinois, civil unions offer a legal status similar to marriage for couples who choose to formalize their relationship in this manner. Established by the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act, which took effect on June 1, 2011, civil unions provide many of the same state-level legal benefits as marriage. This non-marital legal relationship is available to both same-sex and opposite-sex couples.

Legal Benefits of a Civil Union

Couples in a civil union in Illinois are entitled to many of the same rights and protections that married couples receive under state law. These benefits include:

It's important to note, however, that federal benefits available to married couples are not extended to those in civil unions due to the federal government's definition of marriage.

Historical Context and Examples

The advent of civil unions in Illinois was a progressive step toward equal rights for same-sex couples at a time when marriage was not yet an option nationwide. Before the Supreme Court's landmark decision in Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015, which legalized same-sex marriage across the United States, civil unions were an important avenue for same-sex partners to gain legal recognition for their relationships.

An example of the practical benefits of civil unions can be seen in emergency situations where non-family members might be restricted from visitation or decision-making roles. With a civil union, partners ensure they can fully participate in critical moments without being sidelined due to a lack of legal recognition.

Dissolution of Civil Unions

The process for legally dissolving a civil union in Illinois resembles that of divorce proceedings. Partners may seek dissolution through the courts, which will address issues such as division of property, spousal support, and parental responsibilities if applicable.


Civil unions provide an important legal framework for couples who either choose not to marry or who were not able to marry before nationwide legalization. While there are many similarities between civil unions and marriages under Illinois law, it is crucial for couples to understand the nuances and limitations, particularly with regard to federal benefits and recognition. By affording a range of state-level legal benefits, civil unions represent a significant acknowledgment of diverse family structures within Illinois' legal landscape.