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updated: 6/26/2013 7:07 PM

Couple: Supreme Court decision creates pressure here

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  • Angela and Cathy Kokkinos argue the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act should push Illinois lawmakers to legalize same-sex marriage.

    Angela and Cathy Kokkinos argue the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act should push Illinois lawmakers to legalize same-sex marriage.
    Photo courtesy Angela and Cathy Kokkinos


Gay marriage advocates say the U.S. Supreme Court's decision Wednesday to strike down the federal Defense of Marriage Act will have its most direct impact here only if Illinois lawmakers legalize same-sex marriage.

"As we've seen, it takes time," Cathy Kokkinos of Aurora said Wednesday shortly after the decision.

The federal decision does not affect Illinois' ban on same sex marriage, though the ruling is likely to influence the upcoming debate over that ban. Wednesday's decision would mean gay couples here could get federal benefits if state lawmakers eventually allow same-sex marriage.

Opponents with serious religious reservations to same-sex marriage can be counted in both political parties, though, and their argument to lawmakers not to approve has so far won out.

The ruling "does not mandate a redefinition of marriage across the nation, so the citizens of Illinois can still preserve marriage by telling their state lawmakers to honor the natural truth of marriage as the union of one man and one woman," a statement from the Catholic Conference of Illinois reads.

Lawmakers' effort to approve same-sex marriage stalled in late May even though Illinois' legislature is dominated by Democrats and its most famous alumnus, President Barack Obama, has backed the cause.

A vote could come in November, and it's clear supporters in Illinois will try to use Wednesday's decision to bolster their case.

"The ruling came from a conservative Supreme Court," said state Rep. Sam Yingling, a Round Lake Beach Democrat and openly gay lawmaker.

The back and forth on the issue in Illinois meant both sides were glued to news of Wednesday's decision, including Kokkinos longtime partner, Angela.

"I'm watching it very closely from work," Angela Kokkinos said Wednesday morning. "I keep checking my phone."

The Kokkinos have a civil union in Illinois, but a federally recognized marriage would offer additional benefits, including filing joint taxes, receiving breaks on estate taxes and receiving Social Security survivor benefits.

But there were still lingering questions about the ruling's full impact on couples that were married in a state that recognizes same-sex marriages and now live in Illinois. For example, immigration law focuses on where people married, but eligibility for survivor benefits essentially depends on where a married couple is at the time of a death.

Obama directed the Justice Department Wednesday to work with other executive branch agencies to begin implementing the court's decision, so more guidance for states like Illinois may follow.

A couple that is legally married in another state and resides in Illinois is recognized as a civil union in the state, even if the couple hasn't applied for one. The number of couples in civil unions in Illinois who may or may not be legally married elsewhere is roughly 5,300.

The Kokkinos say the practical benefits of marriage are one thing, but they want to take the extra step beyond a civil union for their 6-year-old daughter.

"We can show our daughter we are married," Angela Kokkinos said.

Efforts to legalize gay marriage in Illinois are also ongoing in the courts. Last year a lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and New York-based Lambda Legal, which represents 25 couples who were denied marriage licenses in Cook County. The suit also challenges a state law that defines marriage as between a man and woman.

While the decision on the federal case doesn't have an impact on the state law, it's expected to help the lawsuit's chances, said Camilla Taylor, marriage project director for Lambda Legal in Illinois. In a statement, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who supports gay marriage, agreed.

•The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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