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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 1, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 22
ACLU and Lambda Legal challenge Illinois on marriage
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ACLU and Lambda Legal challenge Illinois on marriage

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Illinois filed separate lawsuits against the county clerk of Cook County, Illinois, on May 30, claiming that his failure to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples violates the equal protection and due process clauses of the Illinois Constitution.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has been a vocal supporter of marriage equality, and The Chicago Tribune reported that he might not contest the lawsuits.

Quinn's office released a statement on May 30, saying the governor 'supports marriage equality.'

'We have not seen the lawsuits,' the statement continued. 'From recent press coverage, it appears the lawsuits will not be against the state, but against the clerk of Cook County. We will review the lawsuits once copies become available.'

The two Illinois lawsuits are similar to ones filed in California not long after the state enacted a domestic partnership law that provided the legal equivalent of civil unions.

Those suits led the California Supreme Court to rule that it was unconstitutional to ban same-sex marriage, a decision that was reversed at least temporarily by Prop 8.

A total of 25 couples from across Illinois are plaintiffs in the two suits. Each couple tried to get a marriage license from the Cook County clerk's office in May and was denied based on the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, which prohibits same-sex marriage.

'A marriage between 2 individuals of the same sex is contrary to the public policy of this State,' the law says.

Cook County Clerk David Orr was reportedly out of the country, but his office issued a statement on his behalf, saying that he, too, supports marriage equality.

'The time is long past due for the state of Illinois to allow county clerks to issue marriage license to couples who want to make their commitment. I hope these lawsuits are the last hurdle to achieving equal marriage rights for all,' the statement said.

'We always thought this was something that had to happen,' said ACLU attorney John Knight. 'We think it's time to try in the courts, and we're optimistic about our chances.'

Knight added that he is confident marriage equality can be won through the state's judicial system, and therefore there is no reason to wait for the state legislature to reverse its previous stand against marriage rights for Gay and Lesbian couples.

'When people think about their love and commitment to one another, they think about marriage. Civil unions feel like it's entering into something for another reason.'

'We feel like we're at a tipping point,' said Camilla Taylor, a Lambda Legal attorney who argued a similar case that led to the legalization of same-sex marriage in Iowa.

'You reach a point where you can no longer tell these families that they should hold off. You lack the justification when we reach a national moment, when it's clear that our time is now.'

Several plaintiff couples told reporters that while civil unions were supposed to give them all the rights enjoyed by married opposite-sex couples, they still fell short in many important respects.

Carlos Briones and Richard Rykhus, of Evanston, have been together for 11 years and have a 7-year-old son, Ty. They are plaintiffs in the ACLU suit.

After President Obama expressed his support for same-sex marriage, the couple had a talk with their son about their status - Briones and Rykhus were married in Canada, and that marriage is now recognized in Illinois as a civil union.

'Most couples who've been together in a long-term, committed relationship & don't have to give a 10-minute explanation to their children about how their relationship is or is not recognized,' Rykhus said.

'We just want that same recognition.'

Lambda Legal plaintiffs Theresa Volpe and Mercedes Santos have been together for 20 years and have two children, ages 4 and 7.

On the first day civil unions were legal in Illinois, Volpe and Santos joined more than two dozen other couples for a union ceremony in Millennium Park,

'After having a civil union for a year now, it just kind of defined even more the differences between our family and other families who are married,' Santos said.

'No one really understands what a civil union is,' Volpe added. 'Our daughter had to explain that to her classmates. We shouldn't have to explain that. Our daughter shouldn't have to explain that.'

'We've had a year of civil unions,' the ACLU's Knight summed up. 'We understand and have seen and talked to a number of people about the problems with civil unions. It's as we expected. You provide a different and new and not terribly understandable relationship status, and you send a pretty loud message that Gay and Lesbian couples aren't good enough for the honored tradition of marriage.'

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