Judge OKs same-sex couples in Cook County to wed before gay marriage law takes effect; says "time is always ripe to do right"

By Bethany Krajelis | Feb 21, 2014


Same-sex couples in Cook County can begin applying for marriage licenses immediately after a federal judge today said they shouldn’t have to wait until the state’s gay marriage law takes effect in June.

"There is no reason to delay further when no opposition has been presented to this Court and committed gay and lesbian couples have already suffered from the denial of their fundamental right to marry," U.S. District Judge Sharon Coleman wrote in her four-page opinion and order.

Coleman's ruling comes about two months after she gave same-sex couples facing life-threatening illnesses the green light to get married before June.

Both of the judge’s rulings stem from a class action lawsuit four same-sex couples filed Dec. 6 in Chicago’s federal court against Cook County Clerk David Orr.

These couples — Brenda Lee and Lee Edwards, Patricia Tucker and Ingrid Swenson, Elvie G. Jordan and Challis Luann Gibbs, Ronald Dorfman and Kenneth Y. Ilio — argued that having to wait to wed until the state’s gay marriage law, which was approved in November, takes effect violates their due process and equal protection rights.

All of the plaintiffs requested a permanent injunction to prevent the enforcement of current statutes banning gay marriage and four of the plaintiffs–Jordan, Gibbs, Dorman and Ilio—sought a temporary restraining order to allow same-sex couples in which one partner is facing a life-threatening illness to get married before June.

Orr’s office, which is in charge of marriage licenses in Cook County, and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office, which intervened in the suit shortly after it was filed, had no objections to letting same-sex couples marry early and filed briefs in support of the suit.

In her order, Coleman wrote that “since the parties agree that marriage is a fundamental right available to all individuals and should not be denied, the focus in this case shifts from the ‘we can’t wait’ for the terminally ill individuals to ‘why should we wait’ for all gay and lesbian couples that want to marry.”

“To paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: the time is always ripe to do right,” Coleman wrote.

While Coleman wrote she believes the statewide ban on same-sex marriage --which remains in place until the new law takes effect in June --violates the Equal Protection Clause, she wrote in her order that her ruling only applies Cook County because it was filed against Orr.

In a statement posted on his office’s website, Orr said he is “thrilled same-sex couples who want to get married won’t have to wait any longer.”

“We are very excited to celebrate this historic milestone with every loving couple from today onward,” he said, adding that his downtown office will begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples immediately.

The clerk’s downtown office will stay open until 7 p.m. tonight “to accommodate any couples who want to get a license after work,” and the office’s other locations will begin issuing marriage licenses on Monday, according to the statement.

Camilla Taylor, director of Lambda Legal’s Marriage Project, said in the statement that “Justice has prevailed and full equality is no longer delayed for Illinoisans who wish to marry in Cook County before June 1st.”

Taylor represented the plaintiff couples as part of a legal team made up of about a dozen attorneys with Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Illinois, and the Chicago law firms of Miller Shakman & Beem and Kirkland & Ellis.

“We’re thrilled that Judge Coleman recognized the serious harm to the many Illinois families from continuing to deny them the freedom to marry,” John Knight, director of the ACLU’s LGBT and AIDS Project, said in the statement.

He added, “The U.S. Constitution guarantees these families the personal and emotional benefits as well as the critical legal protections of marriage.”

Same-sex couples in Cook County, however, shouldn’t rush to get their licenses today if they weddings planned for this summer, Orr warned, saying that marriage licenses are only valid for 60 days after they are issued.

Orr's statement notes that “couples who wish to convert their prior civil union date to a marriage will have to wait until June 1 because it was not addressed in Judge Coleman’s order.”

More information about obtaining marriage licenses can be found on Orr’s website at cookcountyclerk.com.

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