UPDATE: January, 10, 2012 - the City of Springfield reversed its decision, and will now offer health care benefits to partners of employees in civil unions.

December 29, 2011 - A recent decision by officials to deny spousal health insurance benefits to city employees in civil unions violates local state and federal law, according to a letter sent to Springfield Mayor J. Michael Houston by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. In the letter sent on December 28th, the ACLU notes that the policy announced by the City of Springfield last week is contrary to the purpose and intent of the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act which went into effect in June of 2011. The letter also makes clear that Springfield’s proposed action “discriminates against city employees on the basis of sexual orientation and marital status in violation of the Illinois Human Rights Act, Springfield’s equal employment policy, and the equal protection provisions of the United States and the Illinois’ Constitution.”

“It is unacceptable that any community would try and undermine the uplifting purposes of the Civil Union Law,” said John A. Knight, Director of the LGBT Rights Project at the ACLU of Illinois. “The Law was designed to ensure fairness and equal treatment across our State. Springfield must follow this law and offer benefits on equal terms to partners in civil unions.”

According to media reports the City of Springfield believes it may discriminate against its employees in civil unions because the City is “self-insured.” The ACLU letter yesterday notes that it appears that “Springfield intends to claim that the state civil rights laws are preempted because self-insured plans are covered by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”).” The ACLU notes that ERISA explicitly excludes governmental plans, including health insurance plans provided by cities like Springfield.

The ACLU concludes that because of this “state laws are not preempted and city employees are protected by the state civil rights laws,” including the Civil Union Law.

“This is an error on the part of the City of Springfield; the City Council should act to correct it as soon as possible, “added the ACLU’s Knight.

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A copy of the ACLU letter can be found here.