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Commonly Asked Questions About Civil Unions

What is a civil union?
A civil union is a legal relationship granted by the State of Illinois. However, civil unions entered into in Illinois are not recognized under federal laws. For information about legal benefits under the state law, seek competent legal counsel.

When did civil unions become legal in Illinois?
Effective as of June 1, 2011, licenses for civil unions established in Lake County may be issued by the Lake County Clerk’s office.

Who can enter into a civil union?
Applicants for a civil union license must be 18 years of age, both appear in person to apply for the license and provide the required valid identification. Neither applicant for a civil union may currently be a party to a marriage, civil union, or substantially similar legal relationship at the time the application for license is made.

Illinois law prohibits civil unions between close relatives. You cannot enter into a civil union with your parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, first cousin, brother, sister, child or grandchild—whether by full-blood, half-blood, or adoption.

May applicants have been previously married or in a civil union?
If either applicant was previously married or in a civil union or substantially similar legal relationship, the prior marriage, civil union, or substantially similar legal relationship must either be dissolved or the previous spouse or civil union partner must be deceased.

Is a license required for a civil union established in Lake County?
Yes. To obtain a license for a civil union to be established in Lake County, you must submit an application for license in the Lake County Clerk’s office. The license is valid only in Lake County and the civil union must occur within 60 days of issuance of the license.

Is there a cost for the license?
The fee for a civil union license is $35. The license becomes valid one day after issuance and is valid for 60 days. During that time, the civil union must be established and the officiant conducting the civil union must certify the date and place of the civil union. If no civil union is established during the 60 day period, the license becomes invalid. After a civil union occurs, it will remain valid until time as it may be legally dissolved.

Are both applicants required to be present to apply for the civil union license?
Yes. Both applicants must appear at the County Clerk’s office to apply for a civil union license. Each applicant must present proof of identity which may be a valid U.S. driver’s license, a valid U.S. state-issued photo identification, or a valid U.S. passport.

What do we do with the license?
You must present the license to the person who will perform the civil union and who will complete the certification on the license which includes the date, place, officiant information and signature. The officiant must return the completed license to our office within 10 days of the civil union for the certificate registry. The license containing the certification is not a completed legal document until it has been recorded in the County Clerk’s office.

Do we need to have a religious ceremony in order to enter into a civil union?
No. Illinois does not require a religious ceremony in order to enter into a civil union. Your civil union may be established and certified by a religious official or a secular official such as a Judge or retired Judge of a Court of Record, a Judge of the Court of Claims, or a public official whose powers include solemnization of marriage.

Will an Illinois civil union be recognized in other states?
In most cases, civil unions are not recognized in other states. However, a civil union entered into in Illinois may be recognized under the laws of some states. You are advised to seek competent legal counsel regarding the laws of other states.

Are parties to same-sex marriages, civil unions or domestic partnerships in another state required to enter into a separate civil union in Illinois?
If you entered into a same-sex marriage, civil union, or substantially similar legal relationship in another state, Illinois law provides it will be recognized as a civil union in Illinois. You may be required to provide proof of your out-of-state union such as a copy of your marriage or civil union certificate or proof that you and your partner have validly registered as domestic partners.

If parties participated in a religious ceremony, but have not entered into a legal relationship in any state, is a civil union needed?
If individuals choose to establish the legal obligations, responsibilities, protections, and benefits extended to civil union partners under Illinois law, an application for a civil union license is appropriate. A prior religious ceremony will not prohibit entering into a civil union in Illinois.

Helpful Links
Lambda Legal - Midwest Regional Office
(312) 663-4413 or

Equality Illinois -