March 28, 2012

Symposium to explore Illinois’ civil unions law

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- A symposium next week at Southern Illinois University Carbondale will examine the benefits and limitations of Illinois’ civil union law.

Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, a former assistant clinical professor at the SIU School of Law, will be among the speakers at the event.  “Civil Unions:  What You Get and What You Don’t,” is set for 5:30 p.m., Tuesday, April 3, in the Hiram H. Lesar Law Building Auditorium.

Simon at one time taught family law at the law school and also practiced family law in Southern Illinois. Other speakers will include Ray Prather, an attorney and certified public accountant with the Chicago-based Prather Ebner LLP, and Bernard Cherkasov, executive director of Equality Illinois.  The moderator is Kateah McMasters, a third-year law student and president of the Women’s Law Forum, a registered student organization at the law school.

Media Advisory

Reporters, photographers and camera crews are welcome to cover the symposium. For more information on the event, contact Alicia Ruiz, the law school’s director of communication and outreach, at 618/453-8700.

Admission is free and open to the public.  Attorneys may still register to earn continuing legal education credit.  For more information, contact Alicia Ruiz, the law school’s director of communication and outreach, at 618/453-8700.

Jill Adams, an associate professor at the law school, said the symposium will look at the state’s two-tiered legal recognition of partner relationships that went into effect in June 2011.

The state’s Civil Union Law allows both heterosexual and same-sex couples to enter into civil unions, essentially providing many of the identical rights given to married couples.  Illinois does not, however, permit same-sex marriage.

One important consideration is that Illinois’ civil union law will not be recognized in other states, so that couples united in a civil union here might not automatically have the same legal protections in other states.

One area that symposium speakers will touch on is informing people who are interested in entering civil unions, attorneys, and others interested in the topic “how best to protect the rights of partners in civil unions where Illinois law may not provide them a benefit,” she said.

The symposium will also look at the impact of federal law on civil unions in areas that include federal tax returns, and taxable employee health care benefits to domestic and civil union partners.  The Federal Defense of Marriage Act does not recognize same sex marriages or unions.

“I hope that those attending will better understand both the benefits conferred under the Illinois Civil Union Act and also the limitations of those benefits,” said Adams, who is also faculty adviser to the Women’s Law Forum registered student organization.

Adams said one misperception is that the state law solves all of the legal problems for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender partners who enter into civil unions.  There is also a fear among some that “the legal recognition of loving relationships of same sex couples by the state somehow diminishes the value of heterosexual marriage and may infringe on religious liberty.  The focus of the symposium, however, is more on the rights obtained and not obtained by the Illinois’ recognition of civil unions,” she said.

Symposium sponsors include the SIU School of Law, and two registered student organizations in the law school -- Women’s Law Forum and The Lesbian and Gay Law Students and Supporters (LEGALSS); the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program at SIU Carbondale; Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, GLBT Resource Center, the Graduate and Professional Student Council, and the Illinois State Bar Association.

A pre-reception is set for 5 p.m. in the law school’s formal lounge.  A post-reception will follow the symposium.