Q. How does the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act affect an employer’s obligations under federal law?
A. Federal law extends various rights and benefits to spouses, which are defined by federal law as individuals of the opposite sex who are married. Because a civil union is not a marriage, the federal government is not required to recognize civil unions. Accordingly, all of the rights, responsibilities, benefits and protections that federal law confers upon married couples do not apply.
This means that federal COBRA requirements do not apply to civil union partners (although Illinois continuation coverage laws do apply to civil union partners).
In addition, because federal law does not treat civil union partners as spouses and there is noequivalent in Illinois, the civil union law does not impact existing FMLA policies. In requests for leave that would typically be covered under FMLA, some employers are choosing to cover civil union partners, even though not required, to avoid discrimination claims.