A federal judge ruled Friday that Cook County can immediately begin issuing marriage licenses to gay couples, and the Cook County clerk obliged -- keeping the downtown Bureau of Vital Records office open two hours longer Friday night to accommodate people coming in after work.
Suburban Cook County courthouses will begin issuing licenses on Monday. Marriages can be performed 24 hours after a license is issued.
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Getting married today• Couples who got a license Friday can be married Saturday, from 9 a.m. to noon in Marriage Court, 119 W. Randolph St., Lower Level, Chicago. $10 fee; first come, first served.
• All offices will issue marriage licenses beginning Monday, Feb. 24.
• Any couple who has an Illinois civil union can get a marriage license and the $60 fee will be waived.
• A couple wanting to have a retroactive marriage license to the date of their civil union must wait until June 1.
• A couple who gets a marriage license must wait a day to be married. Licenses are good for 60 days.
• Couples who live outside Cook County may get their marriage license here as long as their ceremony is performed in Cook County.
• For pictures from this historic day, view the Clerk's photo album.
The federal court ruling moved up the date in Cook County from June 1 -- when all of Illinois is to start allowing same-sex marriage -- to allow it immediately.
The first license went to Charles Gurion of Chicago and his partner, David Wilk. Gurion, originally from Palatine, heard the news during his lunch break, got in touch with Wilk and rushed downtown.
"We didn't really have a plan," Gurion said. "We were just so excited."
Gurion's mother, who lives in Rolling Meadows, was quickly trying to pull together family so he and Wilk can get married Saturday.
Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Illinois brought the lawsuit against the Cook County clerk's office, arguing there is no reason gay couples must wait until June.
In her ruling, Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman agreed. She said no opposition was presented to the court, and gay and lesbian couples "have already suffered from the denial of their fundamental right to marry."
Coleman was the judge who ruled in December that same-sex couples could marry early in Cook County if one or both partners had a life-threatening illness.
The American Civil Liberties Union said Friday it believes Coleman's latest ruling should apply statewide. Gov. Pat Quinn issued a statement Friday saying same-sex couples should be able to marry anywhere in Illinois before June 1.
"Just because of a quirk of Illinois lawmaking process, people shouldn't have to wait for equal protection," agreed state Rep. Sam Yingling, a Grayslake Democrat and openly gay lawmaker.
While additional legal action could green-light marriages in other counties, for now Cook County Clerk David Orr is the only one granting licenses.
"I'm thrilled same-sex couples who want to get married won't have to wait any longer," said Orr, whose office issued 46 licenses Friday. "We are very excited to celebrate this historic milestone with every loving couple from today onward."
David Smith, executive director of the conservative Illinois Family Institute, disagreed, saying the judge unnecessarily circumvented the political process.
"The issue was already ... solved by the legislature," Smith said, adding he didn't agree with legislators.
Collar county clerks said that as far as they know, June 1 is still the date when they can issue licenses, not before.
Lake County Clerk Willard Helander's attorneys told her she probably wouldn't be in any legal trouble if she started issuing licenses, but she will hold off.
"We just want to make sure we are very careful so there are no negative consequences," Helander said. "We wouldn't want someone down the line to say those marriages were invalidated."
McHenry County Clerk Katherine Schultz and Kane County Clerk John Cunningham said June 1 is still the first day they will issue licenses.
Helander said the situation could be confusing for collar county residents who got a civil union in one county and might be looking to marry in another.
"It leaves the system out of balance when residents of different counties are on a different footing," she said.
Anyone can get a marriage license in Cook County, as long as they are married in Cook County. Licenses are good for 60 days.
Lawmakers approved same-sex marriage after a yearlong political battle that led to the near ouster of the chairman of the Illinois Republican Party and tough primary challenges for some GOP lawmakers who supported it. A final vote was delayed at least once because of the lack of Democratic support.
After the ruling, state Sen. Kyle McCarter, a Republican from downstate Lebanon, said he'll abandon plans to try to overturn the same-sex marriage law.
While many couples may be rushing to the altar in Cook County in the next week, Andrew Eichner, partner with family law firm Berger and Schatz, said it is important for couples to think the process through. Same-sex couples will now be subject to the same divorces, custody battles and prenuptial agreements as heterosexual couples, he said.
"Don't rush into it just because you can," Eichner said. "Be smart about it. If you have financial arrangements or children, or if you plan on moving to another state where the marriage may not be recognized, you have to take those things into account."
The Cook County courthouse in Rolling Meadows opens at 8:30 a.m. on Monday.
• Daily Herald news services contributed to this report.