The Illinois General Assembly legalized civil unions in 2011. While this was an important step forward in family law for gay and lesbian couples, the law created, in effect, two tiers of marriage. The traditional kind and a "sort of skim-milk marriage," as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader put it during a recent oral argument.
Regardless of what the U.S. Supreme Court decides to do in the civil union cases currently before it, Illinois is poised to do away with the distinction. To do that, the legislature will need to pass the marriage equality bill.
Until that happens, however, Illinois same-sex partners need to recognize and prepare for the special issues that arise in a domestic partnership. Indeed, because of their unique status, domestic partners need to take even more care than traditional couples.
One step in that process is drafting a partnership agreement. The agreement helps unmarried couples to protect their rights and interests by spelling out each partner's responsibilities. As part of creating the agreement, the couple may need to put both partners' names on key documents such as titles to cars or a home. They should also consider putting into writing what will happen if the couple breaks up, which is similar to a prenuptial agreement.
From there, the couple should think about drafting estate planning and administration documents. This is even more important for same-sex couples because they do not benefit from the same presumptions as married couples. As a result, they need to take special care in saying what they want to happen when they die or become incapacitated.
By taking a moment to draft these documents before problems happen, Illinois same-sex couples can do much to minimize problems in the future. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Source: Chicago Tribune, "'I do' to marriage equality," Lisa Madigan, April 24, 2013