Illinois Becomes 6th State to Recognize Same-Sex Civil Unions
Like the same-sex marriage law floated in California, civil union statutes, once passed, usually have a rocky road. In Maine like in California, for example, the same sex union become law via referendum, only to be subsequently invalidated by a court.
Invariably, there is a political price attached to this legislation. No surprise, given such a polarizing issue that scholars have long-heralded as the next civil rights struggle in the USA.
Recently in Iowa, Lambda Legal sponsored litigation on behalf of gay couples, asserting that denying a marriage license on a same-sex basis violated the liberty and equal protection interests of the state constitution. In April 2009, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled in favor of the same-sex couples; three of these justices were voted-off the court in the election last fall. [Here's a powerful Iowan's clear view on the topic.]
A civil union is an intermediate legislative step toward the institutionalization of same-sex marriage. In addition to the 6 states recognizing civil unions, another four states endorse "domestic partnerships", which provide broad rights for same-sex partners, but do not formalize the union. Many gay couples do not avail themselves of such status, rejecting the compromise.
On the other hand, same-sex legislation has been rejected in more than 30 states. Some states, like Michigan, have amended their constitution to expressly limit the scope of marriage to the union of a man and woman.
Same-sex couples have long-sought benefits and rights enjoyed by conventional married couples such as health insurance coverage, tax breaks, even hospital visitation. Like they did in Iowa, gay advocates often have the means to "put their money where their mouth is" in the form of expert lobby campaigns.
In the nearly two decades since the issue was first litigated in Hawaii, the same-sex movement has taken on religious as well as political tones. Nationally, the issue remains far too close to call.
As our common law tapestry continues to evolve, only time will tell whether this issue will achieve civil rights recognition and eventual institutionalization.