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Lambda Legal and ACLU File Marriage Equality Suits in Illinois

Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Illinois each file a lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Chancery Division, contending that Illinois’s refusal to grant marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples violates the equal protection and due process rights of those couples under the state’s constitution.  The Lambda Legal lawsuit is called Darby v. Orr and the ACLU lawsuit is called Lazaro v. Orr.  A civil unions bill passed the state legislature and was signed into law in 2011, and marriage equality advocates in the state had elected to pursue simultaneous legislative and judicial efforts to achieve equal marriage rights.

The two suits are filed on behalf of 25 Illinois couples, all of whom attempted to obtain a marriage license from the Cook County clerk’s office and were denied due to an Illinois law that states that “[a] marriage between 2 individuals of the same sex is contrary to the public policy of this State.” In their arguments, the lawsuits resemble In re Marriage Cases, the series of consolidated lawsuits that were filed in California after the state enacted a domestic partnership law.  In that case’s landmark ruling, the California Supreme Court held that marriage is a fundamental right under the state constitution and that withholding only the title of ‘marriage’ from gay couples while providing them all of the rights and privileges accorded to married couples violated their equal protection rights.  That ruling would lead to the passage of Proposition 8, followed by the Prop 8 trial.

In the Darby complaint, Lambda Legal writes, “Each Plaintiff sought a license to marry in May 2012, in Cook County, Illinois, but were turned away solely because each Plaintiff is the same sex as his or her respective life partner.  Plaintiffs challenge their exclusion from civil marriage, and seek to end the stigmatization and disrespect the State imposes upon them and their children by relegating them solely to the inferior status of civil union.”

In the Lazaro complaint, the ACLU writes, “Plaintiffs are before this Court because offering them civil unions instead of marriage denies them the longstanding reverence, esteem, and universal recognition that are associated solely with marriage. Additionally, they are stigmatized by the creation of a separate, novel, and poorly understood legal status for them instead of marriage. Further, with civil unions, they will continue to be denied access to the federal protections provided to married couples even if the Defense of Marriage Act – which currently denies those protections to married same-sex couples – is repealed or overturned as unconstitutional. Finally, although civil unions purport to provide same-sex couples with all the protections and responsibilities offered to different-sex married couples, plaintiffs continue to be denied the fundamental right to marry the person of their choice, which our constitution guarantees to all Illinoisans.”

On the day of the court filings, the office of David Orr, the Cook County Clerk and the named defendant in both statements, issues the following statement: “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.”

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