From AP - News Headlines -

Illinois to Allow Civil-Union Couples to File Joint State Tax Returns

(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Media)

Starting in January, Illinois will allow couples who obtained civil-union licenses this year to file joint state income tax returns, a symbolic change that likely won't save couples money but that one gay-rights group called an important step.

Monday's announcement comes after Illinois became the seventh state, along with the District of Columbia, to give same-sex couples significant legal protections. Gov. Pat Quinn signed the state's civil union law in January.

That bill included the right to decide medical care for an ailing partner and the right to inherit property, but it didn't include the ability for same-sex couples to file a joint tax return.

While federal law does not allow same-sex couples to submit taxes together, Quinn pushed for the state to make the change after signing the civil union bill, Illinois Department of Revenue spokeswoman Susan Hofer said Monday.

"This was basically the governor saying, 'Find a way to make this work,'" she said.

New tax paperwork and other details haven't been finalized. Officials plan to have same-sex couples who will file individual federal returns also fill out a joint federal return for the state's use only, Hofer said.

The state income tax forms are based on a couple's adjusted gross income on the federal return.

Illinois has a flat income tax of 5 percent, so the benefits couples receive from filing together for federal taxes won't apply at the state level, Hofer said. Still, she added that couples wil still have some additional benefits, like property tax exemptions or education assistance tax credits.

"It's a fairness issue," she said. "And that's the way the governor presented it."

The policy would have no bearing on filing federal taxes jointly because of federal restrictions on gay marriage.

"But this is still a major step because it allows civil union couples to be treated in the same way as married couples are treated, and that's exactly what the lawmakers intended," said Equality Illinois CEO Bernard Cherkasov.

Cherkasov said he hopes Illinois' recent efforts to extend rights to same-sex couples carry over to the federal level. He also said the change would benefit same-sex couples in the future if lawmakers change the state tax code.

"We wanted to make sure that we don't give up on that fight now only to create a real disadvantage for civil-union couples later down the road," he said.

According to the group, Illinois will become the 10th state, along with Washington, D.C., to allow joint state tax returns.