Civil Unions Have Created a Second-Tier Status For Illinois Couples
- Mercedes Santos and Theresa Volpe reside together in Chicago and entered into a civil union in 2011. Santos and Volpe underwent an expensive and intrusive adoption proceeding to secure their legal relationship to both of their children, Ava (7) and Jaidon (4). Nevertheless, Santos and Volpe have struggled with school and hospital administrators for recognition that they are a family, including when Jaidon was hospitalized close to death in intensive care for kidney failure. Admission to the pediatric ICU was for “parents only” and an administrator told Volpe a child could have only one “real” mother. Santos was actually forced to leave their son’s side despite his condition to talk to the administrator and insist that Volpe be allowed in. Eventually, the administrator permitted Volpe to enter, but solely with a “guest” pass. Santos and Volpe worry that they will have to fight for respect as a family in future emergencies.
- Janean Watkins and Lakeesha Harris reside together in Chicago. Together they are rearing six children: Desiree (20), Keira (18), Natasha (17), Christopher (15), Ramil (15), and Malcolm (13). Watkins and Harris fear that lack of respect for their committed relationship to each other will interfere with their ability to protect and provide for their children. When Watkins and Harris went to a police station for a restraining order against a person who was stalking one of their teenage daughters, they were asked “Who’s her mother?” and then, “No, who’s her real mother?” After Watkins and Harris disclosed to officers that Harris was the biological parent, which was not information they preferred to share in that context, Watkins was shut out and precluded from speaking further to the police officers. Watkins believes that the officers would have treated them differently if she could have said that she was married to Harris, and the experience left her fearful that she cannot keep her family safe.
- Danielle Cook and Suzie Hutton, a couple from the Bloomington area, are both teachers and entered into a civil union in the summer of 2011. At the outset of the new school year, their school held a faculty meeting to discuss the professional and personal developments that had occurred over the summer. It was announced that several individuals purchased homes, had children or were recently married, which was received with warm applause. The principal, in an attempt to also recognize Danielle and Suzie’s union, struggled to define their status and was forced to ask the couple to explain it to the rest of their co-workers. The couple was also later asked by their employer to produce documented proof of their civil union in modifying their insurance coverage, a burden that would almost never be asked of a married couple.
- Michelle Mascaro and Corynne Romine, a couple from Oak Park, have adopted three children. The couple was in the process of moving Corynne’s elderly parents from out-of-state to Illinois to be closer and the father passed away unexpectedly while driving back. The family contacted the local authorities, who dispatched a detective to the scene. The detective who arrived had significant difficulty in understanding the situation between the same-sex couple, their parents and their children. His lack of understanding and questioning of their civil union complicated an already traumatic experience for the whole family.
- Roberta (“Robyne”) Omara and Lynne Burnett entered into a civil union in 2011 and reside together in Godfrey in Madison County. Without the language of marriage, Omara and Burnett cannot effectively communicate to others that they are a family. For example, when Burnett was hospitalized in intensive care, hospital staff permitted Burnett’s blood relatives to visit her, including Burnett’s mother, but prevented Omara from seeing Burnett even though Burnett had drawn up a health care power of attorney document designating Omara as the person authorized to make medical decisions for her, and despite Burnett’s mother’s insistence that Omara be permitted to see Burnett. Omara and Burnett believe that they would have been treated differently by the hospital if they had been married. Further, even after having been informed of the couple’s civil union, Omara’s employer has refused Omara’s request to place Burnett on her health insurance even though her employer grants spousal health insurance to employees with different-sex spouses. On May 23, 2012, Omara experienced chest pains and Burnett took her to an emergency room. The registrar who admitted Omara struggled to understand who Burnett was in relation to Omara.
- Lynn Sprout and Kathie Spegal from Champaign entered into a civil union in 2011. They are both middle-aged and beginning to experience more frequent medical issues requiring doctor’s visits. Each time they visit, they are required to fill out medical forms, which ask for their relationship status. However, there is no option for “civil union” on such forms and they have to create a new box to check or even explain their union to the receptionist, creating an awkward step that is never faced by married couples.
- Under Illinois’ civil unions law of 2011, same-sex marriages from other states are explicitly recognized as a civil union in Illinois. However, an Illinois couple was married in Iowa in 2009 following the Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of same-sex marriage in April of that same year and found that such reciprocity is not widely understood or recognized. One spouse recently took a job with Chicago Public Schools and as they sought to transfer her partner’s insurance onto the new insurance plan, the school demanded that the couple reapply for a new civil union as documentation to be eligible to receive medical insurance. Recertifying one’s legally recognized relationship is degrading and a burden that married couples from out-of-state would almost never be forced to perform.
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