A gay rights case, Blumenthal v. Brewer, could end up reshaping relationships for straight couples in Illinois.
In 2014, the Court of Appeals for the First District of Illinois decided courts can’t discriminate against unmarried couples by preventing them from enforcing property claims against one another when they separate.
The case was called Blumenthal v. Brewer and involved an unmarried lesbian couple who split up after twenty-six years together. When their relationship ended, as an unmarried couple they were stuck with whatever they had and couldn’t make any claim to one another’s property like a married couple could. Married couples’ property interest is intertwined from the beginning of a marriage.
The Blumenthal decision by the Appellate Court flew in the face of precedent. In 1979, in a case called Hewitt v. Hewitt, the Illinois Supreme Court reinforced the traditional form of marriage by refusing the legitimacy of joint property claims from non-married couples. This is the way things have been in Illinois ever since. The Hewitt case essentially said that married couples would enjoy a legal recognition that a non-married couple would never enjoy in Illinois, that is a stake in the other person’s property. In this way, Hewitt incentivized the institution of marriage.
Although Blumenthal involved a homosexual couple, there is no reason why, under similar facts, the rationale wouldn’t also apply to heterosexual couples. The equal protection clause would seem to support the contention that unmarried heterosexual couple shouldn’t be excluded from this claim if a homosexual couple is allowed to pursue such claims.
In the fall of 2015, the Illinois Supreme Court heard arguments on the Blumenthal case and could announce a decision at any time.
Illinois Supreme Court Update on Blumenthal
See the update from the Illinois Supreme Court: http://law.justia.com/cases/illinois/supreme-court/2016/118781.html
As it turned out, the Illinois Supreme Court decided that the trial court was correct.
Justia Opinion Summary
Blumenthal jointly owned her Chicago home with Brewer, her domestic partner since 1981. In 2010 Blumenthal sought partition of the residence when the relationship ended. Brewer counterclaimed for common-law remedies, including an interest in Blumenthal’s ownership share in a medical group so that their overall assets would be equalized. Blumenthal moved to dismiss the counterclaim under the Illinois Supreme Court’s 1979 Hewitt decision, which rejected a woman’s suit to divide assets she accumulated with a man during a long-term relationship in which they lived together, had children together, but never married. Brewer argued that it was “particularly irrational” to apply this principle to her because she and Blumenthal could not marry at the time their relationship ended because same-sex marriage was not recognized in Illinois. The counterclaim was dismissed; the partition action proceeded to final judgment. The appellate court vacated the dismissal, calling Hewitt “outmoded and ill-considered.” The Illinois Supreme Court reinstated the trial court decision. The legislature intended marriage to be the only legally protected family relationship under Illinois law. Permitting unmarried partners to enforce mutual property rights might “encourage formation of such relationships and weaken marriage as the foundation of our family-based society.” Marriage is a legal relationship that all individuals may or may not enter into, Illinois does not act irrationally or discriminatorily in refusing to grant benefits and protections under the Marriage and Dissolution Act to those who do not participate in that institution.