Chicago has been good to Rosie O'Donnell, she announced to her show audience last Friday that she's engaged! CONGRATULATIONS to the both of you!
Yep, she and partner Michelle Rounds will apparently be "tying the knot" during the Christmas break - I think that's wonderful. But I have a feeling that she won't be doing it here in Illinois, she'll most likely be flying back to New York where same-sex couples now enjoy the benefit of marriage....here in Illinois we only have Civil Unions.
So why doesn't she get married here, well quite frankly it's because Illinois only offers same-sex Civil Unions - not full marriage like they do in New York and six other states (Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Washington, DC). What's the difference you ask between Civil Unions and Marriage? A LOT! Click through to read more about the differences between marriage and civil unions.
Civil unions are different from marriage, and that difference has wide-ranging implications that make the two institutions unequal. Here is a quick look at some of the most significant differences:
Marriages are respected state to state for all purposes, but questions remain about how civil unions will be treated in other states since very few states have civil unions.
Ending a Civil Union:
If you are married, you can get divorced in any state in which you are a resident. But if states continue to disrespect civil unions, there is no way to end the relationship other than by establishing residency in a state that respects the civil union.
According to a 1997 GAO report, civil marriage brings with it at least 1,138 legal protections and responsibilities from the federal government, including the right to take leave from work to care for a family member, the right to sponsor a spouse for immigration purposes, and Social Security survivor benefits that can make a difference between old age in poverty and old age in security. Civil unions bring none of these critical legal protections.
Taxes & Public Benefits for the Family:
Because the federal government does not respect civil unions, a couple with a civil union will be in a kind of limbo with regard to governmental functions performed by both state and federal governments, such as taxation, pension protections, provision of insurance for families, and means-tested programs like Medicaid. Even when states try to provide legal protections, they may be foreclosed from doing so in joint federal/state programs.
Filling out forms:
Every day, we fill out forms that ask us whether we are married or single. People joined in a civil union don’t fit into either category. People with civil unions should be able to identify themselves as a single family unit, but misrepresenting oneself on official documents can be considered fraud and carries potential serious criminal penalties.
Separate & Unequal -- Second-Class Status:
Even if there were no substantive differences in the way the law treated marriages and civil unions, the fact that a civil union remains a separate status just for gay people represents real and powerful inequality. We’ve been down this road before in this country and should not kid ourselves that a separate institution just for gay people is a just solution here either. Our constitution requires legal equality for all. Including gay and lesbian couples within existing marriage laws is the fairest and simplest thing to do.
So even though Rosie will enjoy the benefits of marriage that New York offers, we here in Illinois still need to get by with simply Civil Unions, and none of us get the full Federal benefits that marriage offers. I know it's a work in progress, and it's been a long hard battle - but there is more to do. Don't we all deserve the same rights?