A lawsuit seeking to overturn Illinois' ban on gay marriage can move forward in the courts, a judge ruled Friday, buoying hopes among some same-sex couples that it's just a matter of time before they can marry in their home state.
Cook County Circuit Judge Sophia Hall denied a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, saying the 25 couples who filed it can argue that they have a fundamental right to marry and that the state's 17-year-old ban discriminates against them based on sexual orientation.
"Marriage is the standard in terms of how you define relationships in the U.S.," said 44-year-old Suzie Hutton, a plaintiff who now is in a civil union with her partner of 11 years, Danielle Cook. "It means something, and we want to be able to say we are married. It's about being with the one you love, the one who supports you and the one you go through the routine of life with."
Another plaintiff, Patrick Bova, 75, who has been with his partner, 81-year-old James Darby, for 50 years, said they easily could have gotten married in another state that allows gay marriage. "But we want to get married in Illinois," he said.
The state law is being defended by five downstate clerks after Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez and Attorney General Lisa Madigan refused to do so, saying they agreed with plaintiffs that the ban is unconstitutional.
"We are confident that Illinois' marriage laws will ultimately be upheld," said Paul Linton, an attorney for the clerks. "The people of Illinois have always understood marriage as a relationship that may exist only between one man and one woman."
He said marriage is meant for "the procreation of children and providing a stable environment for such children raised by their biological mother and father."
Illinois' lawsuit was filed last year against Cook County Clerk David Orr, a supporter of gay marriage whose office is responsible for issuing marriage licenses in Chicago and the rest of the county. All plaintiffs had applied for and been denied marriage licenses in Cook County.
But in an unusual move, Alvarez and Madigan declined to defend the ban, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, saying it violates the state constitution's equal protection clause. Alvarez said it's her job to represent Orr -- and they both agreed with the plaintiffs. The downstate clerks later were granted permission to intervene.
Plaintiffs also have filed a motion for summary judgment -- basically asking the judge to rule quickly in their favor and declare the ban unconstitutional -- saying a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down part of a law denying federal benefits to married gay couples creates a new urgency in the state. Illinois legalized civil unions two years ago, but the recent Supreme Court decision applies only to married gay couples.
The judge has not said when she will take up that request.
The high court ruling says same-sex married couples must be treated the same as other spouses under federal laws governing taxes, health care, pensions and other federal benefits. It does not account for civil unions.
"Illinois is the only thing standing between these families and full federal respect for their relationships," said Camilla Taylor, marriage project director for Lambda Legal, which along with the American Civil Liberties Union is representing the plaintiffs.
A separate fight to legalize same-sex marriage has been ongoing in the state legislature. Proponents will try again this fall to push gay marriage legislation through the General Assembly, where it was not called for a vote in the spring after sponsors said they didn't have enough votes.