A complaint from an out-of-state couple who recently was denied a civil-union license has prompted a policy change in the Lake County clerk's office.
Couples who don't live in Illinois but want a Lake County civil-union license now can get one, if they swear they live in a state that doesn't specifically prohibit civil unions.
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Such affidavits already were in use in DuPage County, officials there said.
The affidavits were added to the Lake County application process Tuesday, five days after Indiana residents Gina Osting-Riddle and Andrea Riddle were denied a license by the clerk's office in Waukegan.
The women had traveled to Lake County for a civil union because Osting-Riddle's father lives there and is ill.
They were turned away, however, because Indiana does not legally recognize civil unions, County Clerk Willard Helander said. That stance was based on previous legal advice from the Lake County state's attorney's office, she said.
Indiana law does not specifically prohibit civil unions, however.
"It all comes down to how you define 'prohibit,'" Helander said.
Randy Hannig, public policy director for the gay rights group Equality Illinois, called the stance "a very strict interpretation" of the law.
Illinois started issuing civil licenses to gay, lesbian and straight couples in June 2011. The Lake County clerk's office has issued 143 civil union licenses since then, Helander said.
Under the Illinois law, couples who live in other states are allowed to get civil union licenses and hold ceremonies here only after the county clerk is "satisfied" the applicants are not prohibited from entering into such a relationship in their home state.
A clerk can accomplish this by requiring the applicants to sign affidavits, the law states.
That's good enough for Helander.
"We are going to put the affidavit into our software," Helander said. "We don't circumvent state law."
Helander believes Riddle and Osting-Riddle were the first couple living in a state that doesn't recognize civil unions to apply for a license in Lake County.
After being rejected in Lake County, the couple got a Cook County license and had a ceremony Saturday at an Arlington Heights hotel, said their officiant, the Rev. Deeya Roberts of Lake Zurich.
Neither Riddle nor Osting-Riddle could be reached for comment.
Hannig said his group has reached out to the clerks in all of the state's 102 counties to ensure they're aware of the various aspects of the civil union law and will do so again in June.
The Lake County situation should answer other county clerks' questions, Hannig said.
"This is exactly what the law says and this is how the law should be executed," Hannig said.
Helander said she decided to start issuing the affidavit with license applications after speaking about the issue with a representative from Equality Illinois.
A conservative Republican, Lake County's Helander said her personal opinions don't affect how the office operates.
"My opinion really doesn't matter unless I'm a legislator," she said. "Once it's the law, it's the law."
Other county clerks have various procedures for out-of-state couples.
In Kane County, a couple from Indiana likely would receive a civil-union license without the need for an additional affidavit, said Karen Greever, the clerk's supervisor of vital records.
But an employee would ask the couple if they're aware their state doesn't recognize the union, Greever said.
The Cook County clerk's office doesn't require an affidavit or acknowledgment of state law. People from other counties and other states often come to Chicago or suburban Cook County to be married or for civil union ceremonies, and no special paperwork is needed in either case, Communications Director Gail Siegel said.
"We treat civil unions the same way we treat a marriage," Siegel said.
McHenry County Clerk Katherine Schultz said a line in the civil-union application addresses residency and jurisdiction. If a couple says they live in a state that doesn't prohibit civil unions, "we don't question it," Schultz said.
Schultz said she'd like to see the affidavit being used in Lake County and elsewhere and would refer it to the state's attorney's office for review.