Earlier today, the Illinois Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of Kris Fulkerson, a woman seeking to exercise her rights as a step-parent under Illinois Civil Union Act. Ms. Fulkerson entered into a civil union with the father of the child, and acted as a step-parent to the child prior to the father’s death. An appellate court denied Ms. Fulkerson the ability to seek rights as a step-parent because she and her partner had entered into a civil union, rather than a marriage. Today’s decision reverses that decision. 

Ms. Fulkerson was represented in this matter by John Knight and Karen Sheley of the ACLU of Illinois, as well as Michael Scodro and Brett Legner of the Chicago office of Mayer Brown LLP.    

The following statement can be attributed to Kris Fulkerson: 

“I am so pleased by the Court’s ruling. This was not just a court case. It was about my family. When my partner and I entered into a civil union seven years ago, we understood that our civil union would give us all the same rights and responsibilities as a marriage. I became a step-parent to a child who became an important part of my life and the life of my entire family. We forged a strong relationship as a family, one that did not end – legally or emotionally – at the death of my partner. My partner and I entered into a civil union, because we understood that our family would get the same protections as we would get from marriage, not only during our lifetimes but afterwards. 

I was devastated when the court of appeals ruled otherwise and I lost the chance to seek visitation and parental responsibilities with my partner’s child who I parented with him for several years prior to his death. 

This has been a long process, with a number of setbacks and delays. I am happy the process ended this way. Every person who entered a Civil Union should be able to exercise all the rights intended when the General Assembly created this path for recognizing and honoring loving relationships.”

The following statement can be attributed to John Knight, LGBTQ & HIV Project Director, ACLU of Illinois:

“This is a great decision, not only for the LGBTQ community but for all couples who decided to enter into a civil union. The Court clearly recognized that when the Illinois General Assembly passed the Civil Union Act, it intended to extend to civil union partners all the rights and responsibilities of marriage, including those of a step-parent. The language of the Act makes that goal clear, and everyone involved in drafting and passing it understood that this was its purpose. We are pleased that the Court recognized this reality and affirmed Ms. Fulkerson’s right to seek step-parent rights. Families who sought, and continue to seek, protections under the Civil Union Act deserve to know that all those family protections remain secure.”