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Another state strikes same-sex marriage ban

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Many Illinoisans have been watching as the issue of same-sex marriage has come up in the courts of several other states. The first step came with the United States Supreme Court case United States v. Windsor, which ruled that same-sex couples are entitled to equal treatment in some circumstances. That decision has sparked a new round of litigation in state courts.

In the latest decision, Virginia struck down a ban on same-sex marriage. It was the third state in which federal judges have struck down laws against same-sex marriage since the Supreme Court handed down its decision in June.

Commentators have wondered if the momentum will force the United States Supreme Court to address the issue it sidestepped last summer: whether same-sex marriage is a constitutional right. Some have suggested the court may prefer to wait for the democratic process to sort things out. However, others hope that the court will recognize when the time is right and ratify the progress that has been made in society.

Whatever the Supreme Court ultimately decides, same-sex Illinoisans couples should not wait for the Court to resolve their issues because litigation can take years. Even then, there is no guarantee the Court will take the case.

Instead, same-sex partners should take proactive steps to protect their rights. In the near term, this means creating legal documents to protect themselves from the vagaries of life. These documents should include powers of attorney that enable a partner to make decisions about the other's health care and finances. It also includes life-partnership agreements, which spell out child custody and property division.

Same-sex partners may also want to consider wills, trusts and property planning documents. These documents make sense regardless of how same-sex law changes in the coming months.

The tide is turning for same-sex partners. In the mean time, couples in Illinois can benefit from protecting themselves legally.

Source: The New York Times, "A Steady Path to Supreme Court as Gay Marriage Gains Momentum in States," Adam Liptak, Feb. 14, 2014

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