Illinois attorney general green lights gay marriage across state

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Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan on March 4 issued a letter that LGBT civil rights advocates say gives the green light for clerks in all counties to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Madigan, in the letter, said, "The protections guaranteed by the Constitution must exist without regard to county lines."

The letter was sent in response to a question from Macon County Clerk Stephen Bean in Decatur about whether the federal court decision ordering Cook County Clerk David Orr to begin issuing licenses to same-sex couples applies to counties in the rest of the state. It was shared with all 102 counties in the state.

Cook County began issued marriage licenses shortly after the ruling, and then, days later, same-sex couples began receiving licenses in Champaign County.

"We agree with the attorney general that the recent federal decision knocking down restrictions on marriage equality as unconstitutional should be the determining factor in clerks' decisions to issue the licenses before the June 1 effective date of the Illinois Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act," said Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois, the state's largest LGBT civil rights group.

He added, "Already some 260 couples have obtained licenses in Cook County, according to David Orr's office, and there are many thousands more around the state awaiting the time that they can have their love legally recognized."

Madigan, a Democrat, said the courts' decisions in marriage cases "should be persuasive" and should be given "full consideration" by the county clerks throughout Illinois.

If a lawsuit results, Madigan said, "We would argue that it is unconstitutional to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples."

Illinois lawmakers approved marriage equality legislation last fall. The effective date for the legislation was set to June 1.

Madigan endorsed the legislation. She also declined to defend the state's ban on gay marriage in lawsuits filed in Cook County.