Same-sex couples can enter civil union

Kevin Johnson and his partner, Brandon Bowersox, have been together for nine years. During the time spent together, they have cultivated their family and adopted a son. On Wednesday, these two men will be able to enter in a civil union and take the step to be seen as a family in the eyes of the Illinois government.

The bill, SB1716, or the “Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act,” was signed by Gov. Pat Quinn back in January and will go into effect Wednesday.

The law will grant same-sex couples similar rights to married couples in the state, said Brie Callahan, press secretary for Quinn.

Same-sex couples will now be able to file a joint tax return, be on the same health insurance as their partner, have hospital visitation rights and have the ability to make medical decisions for their partner, Callahan said. Also, if the couple has a child, they are both seen as the parents.

The same cannot be said for same-sex couples’ rights on the federal level.

“You can’t get social security survivors benefits (or) file a joint federal tax return,” Callahan said.

Johnson, who is also the president for the UP Center of Champaign County, said although the law provides couples like him with benefits and recognition they have not had in the past, he does not view this law as being entirely equal.

“Even though it’s not true equality, and we still are hoping for that and advocating for that at both the federal and state level, this is a good first step,” Johnson said.

Before this law, hospitals could deny a person access to his or her partner in the emergency room, Johnson said. He added that there were instances where this has happened in local hospitals because a person’s partner was not seen as being a family member.

Johnson said he wants same-sex couples to be granted the same rights across the nation. For example, there are some states that deny adoptions to same-sex couples.

“A lot of questions and concerns would just go away if we could be recognized at the federal level,” he said.

Also, same-sex couples will only be seen in a union as opposed to a marriage unless the national government recognizes them, Johnson added.

“The title (of the law) itself says we’re not married,” he said. “That in itself separates us from being equal.”

Those entering in a civil union will have to go through the standard civil union procedures. Couples will need to fill out an application, pay a $4 application fee and have acceptable identification, said Rhonda Wrona, chief deputy for Champaign County. She said she is not certain how many people will come to enter into a civil union starting that day.

“We had some inquiries, but I don’t know how much of a large crowd there will be,” Wrona said. “I do think there’s some interest.”

Johnson said he and his partner will be recognizing this step towards equality by entering into the civil union themselves, but they will not stop there.

“We need to celebrate it, but we also need to recognize as a community (that) it is truly not equal, and we can’t use this step as being satisfied and ignoring the rest of the work that still needs to be done,” Johnson said.