Match made in heaven: Lawyers, gay marriage
Excerpted from the Crain's Chicago Business article
December 2, 2013 | Steven R. Strahler
Same-sex marriage is a natural blessing for matrimonial attorneys—and for adoption, tax, estate and, yes, divorce lawyers—and few are more eligible than Chicago's Richard Wilson. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender clients account for as much as three-fourths of his practice, estimates the 54-year-old partner at Grund & Leavitt PC.
He himself has been in a same-sex marriage for 10 years (hitched in Toronto), and he chaired the national LGBT bar for two years. He talks far and wide—at Lavender Law career fairs, at a conference in Charleston, S.C., and at mainstream events such as a McHenry County Bar Association retreat.
“There's just a greater awareness of rights and interests out there, and people want to know what they are,” he says of legalization of same-sex marriage in Illinois two weeks ago and the demise of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, declared unconstitutional last summer (read the PDF). Lawyers, gay and straight, are angling for the new business these legal sea changes create.
Civil union law extends property owner protections
Excerpted from the Chicago Tribune article
May 27, 2011 | Mary Umberger
On June 1, Illinois will join a handful of other states that recognize civil unions as legal relationships when the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act goes into effect.
The new law will give most of the rights of marriage both to same-sex couples and male-female couples who choose it, according to Richard A. Wilson, a Chicago lawyer who is a founding member and past chair of the Illinois State Bar Association's Standing Committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.
In an interview, Wilson, a partner at Grund & Leavitt, offered his views on how civil unions would affect the ownership of real estate.
New civil unions law makes clerk's office busy place
Excerpted from the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin article
June 1, 2011 | Bethany Krajelis
SPRINGFIELD — As many people waited outside the Cook County clerk's office this morning to apply for the state's first-ever civil union licenses, some lawyers were already taking advantage of Illinois' newest law.
"I always say divorce is one of the greatest benefits of marriage," said Richard A. Wilson, an attorney with Grund & Leavitt P.C. in Chicago.
While couples that obtained licenses today will have to wait until tomorrow to officially enter into a civil union, Wilson filed paperwork today to help at least a handful of his gay and lesbian clients dissolve their out-of-state marriages and civil unions that as of today, are now recognized in Illinois under the state's Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act.
"It's a wonderful law," Wilson said. "The state is finally saying, 'We are going to treat everyone as spouses under Illinois law. We are going to give you the rights and respect we already give to married couples.'"
Wilson wasn't the only one using the new law to file divorce papers today.
Chicago attorney Joshua P. Haid made the trek from the city to Peoria this morning to file a divorce petition for a client who wants to dissolve the same-sex marriage he and his partner entered into in Canada.
"I filed at 8:30 a.m. so I think we're Illinois' first," Haid said, adding that divorce may not be the most-well known aspect of the new law, but that it's a very important legal protection.
The state's civil unions law, which was approved by lawmakers during this past veto session, provides same-sex couples with many of the rights that have long been afforded to heterosexual couples, like health-care benefits and emergency medical decision-making power, among others.
While many lawyers are happy there's finally something on the books to help them resolve issues for their gay and lesbian clients, most acknowledge that there's still a lot of things to work out.
Chicago lawyer Jill M. Metz, who was heavily involved in the passage of the law as the board president for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, said the new law represents a huge change in Illinois law.
"It's 180 degrees different than we had before," Metz said. "I think everyone is working as fast as they can work to get all the pieces into place, but it will take time."
Bloomberg Businessweek Interviews Richard A. Wilson
Grund & Leavitt partner Richard A. Wilson was recently interviewed by Ben Steverman of Bloomberg Businessweek regarding the complexities facing couples — both gay and straight — living outside traditional marriage. “If the government doesn't recognize a relationship, taxes, estate planning, buying property, and dividing assets after a breakup all get messier—and pricier” notes Steverman. The number of unmarried cohabiting couples has surged, meaning millions more Americans now confront these issues.
Ironically, according to Wilson, "One of the greatest benefits of marriage is divorce." Without the standard legal definition of marriage, individuals may not be protected by state laws following a breakup.
A civil union or domestic partnership can complicate rather than simplify legal matters. Once the civil union law takes effect in Wilson’s home state of Illinois, the Chicago attorney says he will "still encourage people to do all the things they always do" to protect themselves, from adopting children to assigning powers of attorney to partners in case of hospitalization. That's because civil union rules generally don't cross state lines. Unlike marriages, civil unions represent "political compromises," Wilson says.
Domestic partnerships and civil unions don't give couples the same breaks on federal taxes traditional couples receive. Without a federally recognized marriage, any asset transferred from one member of a couple to the other, whether after a death, a breakup, or even just adding a partner's name to the title on a home, may be considered a gift by the Internal Revenue Service and can trigger a tax bill, Wilson says.