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Civil Unions and Health Insurance Policy FAQs

Civil Unions and Health Insurance Policy FAQs

By M. Scott Gordon

Background to Civil Unions and Same-Sex Marriages in Chicago

Since June 1, 2014, same-sex couples have been able to legally marry in Chicago, according to a fact sheet from the Cook County Clerk’s office. Prior to same-sex marriage becoming legal in Illinois, our state had a law, the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act (750 ILCS 75/), which permitted same-sex couples to enter into civil unions. Under that law, same-sex couples would be “entitled to the same legal obligations, responsibilities, protections, and benefits as are afforded or recognized by the law of Illinois to spouses.” For most Chicago area residents, civil unions largely were viewed as a precursor to same-sex marriage. While the Civil Union Act provides that couples in civil unions have the same legal protections as couples in marriages, it did not have the same underpinnings of equality.

Illinois law permitted same-sex marriage before many other states in 2014, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) made same-sex marriage a national right in all 50 states. As the Cook County Clerk’s office explains, however, same-sex couples in civil unions do not have to convert their civil unions to marriages, and new couples can choose to enter into a civil union instead of a marriage.

If you are currently in a civil union or considering one, what do you need to know about how it will impact your health insurance? It might seem like a minor issue, but matters involving insurance and taxation can end up having a major financial effect.

Frequently Asked Questions About Civil Unions and Health Insurance

Is a civil union different than a marriage for purposes of health insurance? In many respects, the two are treated the same. However, there are some distinctions when federal programs are involved. If you want to have certain federal benefits, you might want to consider entering into a marriage instead of a civil union.

The following are some commonly asked questions about civil unions and health insurance, according to a press release from the Illinois Department of Insurance at the time the Civil Union Act became effective in Illinois:

  • Will entering into a civil union allow me to add my partner to my health insurance policy through work? Generally speaking, yes. Since civil unions provide the same legal rights, responsibilities, and protections as those provided to legal spouses, insurers must provide couples in civil unions coverage options that are identical to those offered to legally married spouses.
  • If I have a domestic partner but we have not been joined in a civil union, do we have any of the rights provided to spouses when it comes to health insurance benefits? No. In order to have the protections of partners in a civil union, you must legally enter into a civil union.
  • Will my civil union be treated the same way as a same-sex marriage for purposes of Medicare eligibility? Until the decision in Obergefell, Medicare (and other federal entities) did not treat couples in legally recognized civil unions as if they were legal spouses. However, as a fact sheet from gov explains, Medicare and Social Security now may recognize a non-marital legal relationship, such as a civil union, as a marriage in order to determine Medicare eligibility.

In short, most if not all rights and protections afforded to spouses when it comes to health insurance also are afforded to couples in civil unions. Yet it is important to speak with an experienced Chicago family lawyer if you have questions. While federal law now recognizes same-sex couples as equals, being in a civil union, for instance, does not allow you to file a federal tax return as “married filing separately or jointly filing status,” according to IRS.gov.

If you have questions, a family law attorney in our Chicago or Skokie, Illinois offices can help. Contact M. Scott Gordon & Associates today.