On November 20, 2013, Governor Pat Quinn signed the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act ("Act") into law, making Illinois the 16th state to legalize same-sex marriage. The Act will take effect on June 1, 2014. Currently, Illinois recognizes civil-unions between same-sex partners. Although civil unions are afforded the same benefits and protections of opposite-sex marriages under Illinois law, members of civil unions are not recognized as "spouses" for purposes of federal law. With the passage of the Act, same-sex spouses in Illinois will be entitled to receive the same benefits under federal and Illinois law as those enjoyed by opposite-sex spouses.
Although IRS rulings and guidance from the Department of Labor have resolved some open issues regarding how the federal government will treat same-sex couples who were legally married but living in a state that did not recognize same-sex marriages (New Guidance Issued on Same-Sex Marriage Impact Benefit Plans), the recognition of same-sex marriage by Illinois means that employers should take some steps to ensure that their policies, handbooks and benefit plans are consistent with this change in the law. Polsinelli has previously provided some tips for employers to follow in this regard (What the Supreme Court's Defense of Marriage Act Ruling Means for Employers), and these apply with equal force in preparation for the effective date of the Act. Employers should pay particular attention to how the Act impacts the applicability of leave laws, including the federal Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), the Illinois Family Military Leave Act and the Illinois Victims' Economic Security and Safety Act. Employers should also consider how the change impacts other policies they have in place.