Judge: Gay couples can begin marrying in Cook, but not other Illinois counties

News-DemocratFebruary 21, 2014 

A federal judge ruled Friday that there's no reason gay couples in Illinois should have to wait until June 30 to get married under the state's new same-sex marriage law, but the ruling applies only to Cook County.

Same-sex marriage was approved last year by the legislature and Gov. Pat Quinn, but the law isn't scheduled to take effect until June 1.

After the law's approval, some gay couples filed suit against Cook County Clerk, arguing there was no need to delay gay marriages.

U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman issued a ruling Friday saying she has "no trepidation" finding that gays in Illinois have a fundamental right to marry, but she added that the case was brought solely against Cook County's clerk.

"Although this Court finds that the marriage ban for same-sex couples violates the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause on its face, this finding can only apply to Cook County based upon the posture of the lawsuit," the judge wrote.

Quinn applauded the judge's ruling, and added: "Every county across the state should enjoy the same freedom without having to wait until June."

St. Clair County Clerk Tom Holbrook said Friday his belief is that the ruling "carries no weight here." But he nonetheless has asked county lawyers to review it.

"We'll do whatever we're advised to do by our legal counsel," Holbrook said.

Madison County Clerk Debra Ming-Mendoza said Friday she had not yet reviewed the ruling, but has asked county lawyers to advise her on what to do.

"I'm definitely not against any couple wanting to get a marriage license, but I have to make sure I have the authority to issue it before June 1," Ming-Mendoza said.

The judge's decision stemmed from a lawsuit filed against Cook County Clerk David Orr, who supports gay marriage. The judge already ruled in December that same-sex couples did not have to wait until June to marry if one or both partners had a life-threatening illness. Several same-sex couples married after that ruling.

Advocates for same-sex marriage immediately celebrated the ruling. Orr said his office would be open two hours later on Friday, until 7 p.m., to accommodate any couples who would want to get married after work.

"This is a day that's been a long time coming. It's an historical day," he said at a news conference. "We're now open for equal marriage in the county of Cook."

Although the judge's decision specifies that it only applies to Cook County, attorneys for Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, who filed the lawsuit, said there was guidance for clerks statewide.

Christopher Clark, counsel at Lambda Legal in Chicago, said the fact that a federal judge said the state's marriage ban was unconstitutional by violating the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment could be a signal to other county clerks who have to uphold the law.

"It's an enormous victory," he said. "We're thrilled."

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