On January 31, 2011, Governor Pat Quinn of Illinois signed the Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act (the "Civil Union Law") into law. Effective this Wednesday, June 1, 2011, same-sex and different-sex couples may enter into a civil union "with the obligations, responsibilities, protections and benefits afforded or recognized by the law of Illinois to spouses," regardless of whether these entitlements are derived from statute, administrative rule, policy, common law or civil and criminal law.

After the application has been completed and signed by both parties, the fees paid and both parties have appeared before a county clerk, the county clerk will issue a license and a certificate of civil union after being furnished satisfactory proof that it is not prohibited. The certificate of civil union certifies that the persons named on the certificate have established a civil union in compliance with the Civil Union Law and now may be entitled to health insurance coverage.

According to the FAQ published by the Illinois Department of Insurance on May 26, 2011, "for purposes of insurance laws, policies, eligibility and benefits governed by Illinois law, a spouse in a civil union and a spouse in a marriage are to be treated identically." As a result of the foregoing, if the policy is issued in Illinois, a civil union spouse may generally be added (1) during the plan's annual enrollment period, (2) within 30-days after the civil union becomes effective or (3) after the civil union spouse loses coverage under his/her own employer's plan. However, if the employee entered into a civil union in another state, the plan must offer coverage during a special enrollment period beginning on June 1, 2011. Importantly, because federal law does not recognize civil unions, an employee providing coverage to a civil union spouse will have imputed income equal to the fair market value of the coverage provided to the civil union spouse over the amount paid by the employee for coverage.

Additionally, because Illinois law requires that married spouses be offered continuation of employer sponsored-health care coverage due to an employee's job loss, reduction of hours (that results in termination of coverage), retirement, death or divorce, all civil union spouses are now also entitled continuation coverage rights under Illinois law. In contrast, because federal law does not recognize the Civil Union Law, federal COBRA rights may not apply. Should have any questions, please call your relationship attorney.