Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Champaign County follows suit
in issuing marriage licenses
to same-sex couples

By Jamey Dunn

Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten has begun issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples after a federal judge ordered Cook County to begin issuing licenses last week.

When state lawmakers approved the bill allowing same sex marriage last year, there were not enough votes to put it into effect immediately under the state's constitutional requirements, so the law’s effective date is June 1. U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin ruled in December that couples could wed if one of them had a life-threatening illness. U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman took things a step further with her ruling last week that allows all couples to get married in Cook County. Coleman said that “there is no reason to delay further” on allowing gay couples to marry. Cook County Clerk David Orr began issuing licenses on Friday.

“On Friday, federal Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman held that the Illinois statute banning marriage for same-sex couples is unconstitutional and violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause,” Hulten, who is a Republican, said in a written statement. “The Illinois Attorney General and the Cook County Clerk were parties to the suit. The precise effect of the ruling on other Illinois counties is unclear. However, after consulting with State’s Attorney Julia Rietz, I have come to the conclusion that the rationale of the case applies to all citizens of Illinois and that Champaign County residents should have no fewer constitutional rights than those in Cook County. Furthermore, given the ruling, denying a license to a same sex couple would provide no benefit to the county and would likely result in litigation at taxpayer expense. Therefore, effective immediately, the Champaign County clerk’s office will issue marriage licenses to same sex applicants, in accordance with the 14th Amendment, and the Illinois and United States constitutions.”

Hulten told reporters in Urbana today that the office had received inquiries from same-sex couples since the ruling last week. He said that no couples had yet threatened to sue to try to get a license. “What I realized was that if somebody came into our office and asked for a same-sex marriage license in the wake of the Friday court decision in Chicago, we had two choices. We could either issue it or we could turn them away, in which their only recourse was to sue us, with the facts that would have been nearly identical to the case in Chicago. We figured going through litigation with a nearly foregone conclusion was a disservice to everyone.”

Advocates for same sex marriage applauded the move. “Clerk Hulten recognized both the humanity of helping gay and lesbian couples to fulfill their dreams and the legal soundness of following the decision of a federal court that denying marriage licenses was unconstitutional,” said Bernard Cherkasov, chief executive officer of Equality Illinois. “It is simply time for the other county clerks to follow suit,” Cherkasov added. “As we saw in the immediate rush to the Cook County clerk's marriage bureau after Friday's ruling, gay and lesbian couples are eager and ready to take the step that not only grants them and their family the legal benefits and rights of marriage but also bestows society's recognition that their love is equal.” He said that his organization is encouraging other county clerks in the state to begin issuing licenses.

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