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CHICAGO (CBS) — It has been a year now since same-sex civil unions became legal in Illinois, but the advocacy group Equality Illinois says many couples are not finding that their unions are being treated as equal to marriages.
The group says in the first year of civil unions, 4,910 Illinois couples had received civil union licenses. But there is also ample evidence that the separate status of civil unions is not equal to marriage for heterosexual couples, the group said.
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In fact, Equality Illinois found in it survey that the very fact that same-sex couples are not allowed to marry has invited “discrimination and stigmatization” by both government and private businesses.
“As we feared, civil unions have not turned out to be equal to civil marriages,” Equality Illinois chief executive officer Bernard Cherkasov said in a news release. “In area after area, whether tax law, health insurance, hospitalization, family issues, personal finance and actions by state and local officials, couples were either treated unequally or denied their rights, or singled out for discrimination. As we learned in history, separate does not make equal.”
In an survey of 200 same-sex couples, Equality Illinois found eight of ten have had trouble filing their taxes.
In particular, same-sex couples in a civil union cannot file their federal tax returns jointly, although under IRS rules, unmarried heterosexual couples in a civil union can do so. Thus, same-sex couples have to create a separate and false federal “as if married filing jointly” return just so they can fill out their state tax return jointly, the report said.
“It was confusing having to make a fake federal joint form to base the real state joint form off of and then have to go back and redo the two separate individual federal forms,” one person in a civil union said in a report.
The report adds that Illinois does not allow e-filing for couples in civil unions.
Furthermore, because civil unions are not federally recognized, many companies that are self-insured or offer private insurance only offer coverage for federally-recognized straight married couples. Civil union couples are left to fend for themselves, the report said.
Some couples end up having to buy separate insurance plans at higher costs, the report said.
“In the end, we would have had to pay approximately twice as much as heterosexual couples to have my partner enrolled in my insurance plan,” said another person quoted in the report.
Altogether, more than of respondents say they’re having difficulty getting health insurance for civil union partners.
The report also found that hospitals restricted patient access to same-sex civil union partners, and that civil partners could not pick up prescriptions for each other.
The report also indicates problems with name changes allowed under state civil unions, particularly when it came to applying them to federal documents. Same-sex couples in civil unions have also had trouble with adoption, foster parent and birth certificate conventions, and have been stymied while trying to adopt.
Civil union couples trying to buy homes together faced additional expenses, according to the report.
Also, many people ran into instances when public officials, businesspeople and even family and friends simply didn’t know what civil unions were, the report said.
“It is not recognized as equal and only those who have been ‘trained’ to act as if it is anything of significance. I do not feel as though my civil union is even half of what a marriage would be. How do I introduce my partner to people?” a person quoted in the report said.
Some Reports Have Shown Outright Hostility
The report focuses largely on ignorance and red tape encountered by same-sex couples in civil unions. But news headlines over the past year have indicated that some people – including business owners – have regarded gay and lesbian couples with outright hostility.
In an article in the Chicago Sun-Times in March of last year, Todd and Mark Wathen said they were planning a civil union ceremony for when the law took effect in June, and were denied accommodations by two different venues.
In one instance, Todd Wathen said he was told by the Beall Mansion in Alton that the venue only allowed “traditional,” that is, straight weddings.
In the other, the owner of the Timber Creek Bed and Breakfast in Paxton, Ill., told Wathen that the venue would never host a civil union regardless of what the law said because “we believe homosexuality is wrong and unnatural based on what the Bible says about it,” Wathen told the Sun-Times in a story syndicated by the Sun-Times Media Wire.
Wathen told the Sun-Times’ James Scalzitti that Timber Creek owner Jim Walder went on to send him an unsolicited e-mail with links to Bible verses, with the intention of showing “how the Creator of the Universe looks at the gay lifestyle. It’s not too late to change your behavior.”
Push On For Full Marriage Equality
But the problems surrounding civil unions notwithstanding, Equality Illinois says the numbers show same-sex couples are seeking them out everywhere. Civil union licenses were granted in all but eight of the state’s 102 counties.
There were 2,508 licenses issued in Cook County, 845 in the collar counties, and 1,557 downstate.
Meanwhile, a major push is on for full marriage equality for same-sex couples, after lawsuits were filed this week claiming the failure by the Cook County Clerk to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples violates the Illinois Constitution.
After filing the lawsuits, Lambda Legal has also released a public service video for the campaign, “ILove Marriage in Illinois.” In the video, several Illinois couples – some of them hailing from far away from Chicago – make the point that “it’s just time.”
The couples say they have been together for nine years, 29 years, almost 50 years. But they say their relationships have never been treated as legitimate.
Currently, the State of Illinois still bans same-sex marriage by statute, and the couples in the video say a civil union is not enough, because “we’re worth more.”