Residents in Illinois now have the opportunity to apply for and be joined in a civil union, which recognizes a legal commitment between two adults who wish to have the same rights and privileges afforded to married couples. However, this type of recognition currently only exists at the state level. In the case of same sex partnerships, the new civil union law is a step forward in the fight for marriage equality. For Urbana residents Kevin Bowersox-Johnson, and his husband, Brandon Bowersox-Johnson, the new law made it possible for both men to be united by Judge Ford in a civil union on June 3, 2011 at the Champaign County Courthouse. In an email interview, both Kevin and Brandon answered some questions for the Publici, on how the new law has changed things for their family, as well as couples throughout the state of Illinois. Additionally, the Bowersox-Johnson’s shared some thoughts on how the new law will be beneficial to people in Illinois.
According to both men the ceremony gives their family, which includes son Garrett, recognition at a state level. Kevin also serves as the President of The UP Center of Champaign County, which provides resources for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, and ally (LGBTQA) community. The website (http://unitingpride.org/) includes a list of LGBTQA friendly businesses, churches, and organizations. Kevin and Brandon note that, along with churches that are willing to perform civil unions, couples can contact Jennifer Dobson at the Champaign County Courthouse (217-384-3707 option 9), to arrange to have a union performed by a judge. A civil union license can be obtained at the Champaign County Clerk’s office at the Brookens building in Urbana.
The website for the Champaign County Clerk (http://www.champaigncountyclerk.com/), offers information on how to apply for and obtain a civil union license. Currently, civil union licenses are offered at a lower price than marriage license. When asked about this discrepancy, the Bowersox-Johnson’s responded that the pricing was a result of an oversight of a law that the county clerk’s office can charge for different services. Soon the price will be the same as that of marriage licenses, and both men expressed the belief that the fees for civil unions should be equal.
When asked about the main hurdles facing marriage equality, Kevin and Brandon wrote, “It’s important that people apply the same language, rights, and responsibilities on things in order for equality to exist. Therefore, by naming our union and Civil Union rather than a Marriage, we are automatically set apart from step one. Secondly, we need federal recognition. By being recognized at the Federal level, we are able to be granted all the same rights and responsibilities that opposite-sex couples have. At this point and time for those united in Illinois, we can file our Illinois State Taxes together, but still not our Federal Taxes. This complicates things not only for us, but for employers, tax accountants, and other professionals having to sort out the differences.”
In the event that the federal government does end up recognizing same sex unions, Kevin and Brandon don’t anticipate having to undergo another civil union. They believe it’s most likely that their union will be grandfathered in, and recognized as a marriage. Currently though, there are challenges that people joined in a civil union face because of the differences in state and federal recognition. As a result, the Bowersox-Johnson’s recommends that any couple consult with legal professionals to make sure that both individual and couple needs are met. Some of these measures include medical power of attorneys and wills. For opposite sex couples who may consider a civil union, it is still recommended that both parties consult with an attorney regarding federal and state rights. The state of Illinois does not discriminate between same sex and opposite sex couples who wish to join in a civil union.
When asked what they would like for people to understand about civil unions and marriage equality Kevin and Brandon had this to share, “We are both very excited to be united and recognized by the state of Illinois. However, we also recognize that this is a good first step to true equality. We’d like to take a deep breath to cherish this moment before moving forward with our advocacy towards true equality. Congratulations to all those in Illinois who have been civilly united.”