Civil Unions Legalized in Illinois; Implications for Employee Benefit Plans

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The recent legalization of civil unions in Illinois raises implications for employee benefit plans. Employers should take action now to prepare for requests for benefit coverage from employees planning to enter to a civil union with a same-sex or opposite-sex partner once the law takes effect on June 1, 2011.

Employers in Illinois may soon experience an increase in requests for benefits coverage for civil union partners once a law legalizing civil unions for same-sex and opposite-sex partners takes effect June 1, 2011. Signed by Governor Quinn January 31, 2011, the law entitles civil union partners in Illinois to enjoy all of the legal rights and obligations that opposite-sex spouses are entitled to under Illinois law. In addition, Illinois will recognize as a civil union any same-sex marriage, civil union or substantially similar legal relationship entered into in other states. (Ten other states and the District of Columbia currently permit same-sex marriages, civil unions or spousal-equivalent domestic partnerships.)

Employers may want to review their employee benefit plans in preparation for requests for benefits coverage from employees who enter into a civil union. The most common requests for benefits for a civil union partner are likely to be coverage under an employer’s medical, dental and vision plans, and survivor annuity coverage under defined benefit pension plans.

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