By Lisa Sergent
Springfield, Ill. | Last summer when civil unions became legal in Illinois, many homosexual groups said the action did not go far enough and they would continue their efforts to make same-sex marriage legal in the state.
Without any further legislation passed in the Illinois General Assembly two of the largest pro-homosexual rights groups in the U.S. have taken the issue to the state’s court system. The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois and New York-based Lambda Legal have each filed suit on behalf 25 couples who were denied marriage licenses in Cook County. Both suits, filed May 30, challenge a state law that defines marriage as between a man and woman, arguing that the Illinois Constitution guarantees the right for same-sex couples to marry under due process and equality clauses.
"It's time for Illinois to recognize the love and commitment of these couples," said John Knight, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Project of the ACLU of Illinois. "We've waited long enough."
Both the Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan support the claim that the state’s ban is unconstitutional and have refused to defend it.
The Chicago-based Thomas More Society filed a motion to intervene, and has been allowed to defend the state’s Defense of Marriage Law against the now combined suits. Tazewell County Clerk Christie Webb and Effingham County Clerk Kerry Hirtzel asked the Thomas More Society to file the motion to dismiss the lawsuit on their behalf.
Progressives around the state have hailed the homosexual-rights groups lawsuits. University of Chicago Law Professor Geoffrey Stone welcomed the lawsuits in an op-ed piece he wrote for the May 31 Chicago Tribune. “There is little doubt among constitutional experts that the challenged law is unconstitutional,” he stated. “The central question is whether our Illinois judges will have the courage to say so.”
Paul Linton, a member of the Thomas More Society’s legal team, countered, “If advocates of same-sex marriage believe that the people of Illinois are now prepared to accept same-sex marriage, let’s have the General Assembly put the issue on the November ballot and we’ll see who wins. Same-sex marriage should not come in the back door, via an arguably collusive lawsuit in which no one charged with the responsibility of enforcing the law actually defends it.”
On July 24, two Illinois lawmakers did step forward – State Representatives Tom Morrison (R-Palatine) and David Reis (R-Olney) – introducing House Joint Resolution 95 (HJR 95) which would place the issue on the 2014 Illinois General Election ballot. It should be noted however, the issue has been introduced each year since 2003 and has never made it to the House floor.
Oral arguments on the motion to dismiss are scheduled for September 27 in Chicago, while many Illinoisans are bracing for what may be a long drawn-out legal battle.
If the lawsuit were to succeed, Illinois would join Massachusetts, Connecticut and Iowa where gay marriage recognition in was court-ordered. Voters in the District of Columbia, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont legalized same-sex marriage.
- with additional reporting from Baptist Press