Rights group wants clerks across Illinois to issue marriage licenses to gay couples

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Illinois' largest statewide LGBT civil rights group is calling on county clerks throughout the state to follow a federal court ruling from last week.

In that ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman said denying same-sex couples immediate access to marriage was unconstitutional and she ordered Cook County to begin issuing marriage licenses to gays and lesbians.

Equality Illinois said over the weekend that county clerks outside Cook County — home to Chicago — should take note of the order.

"The federal court's ruling responded to a lawsuit filed in Cook County and applies initially only to the Cook County Clerk's office, but clerks in the other 101 counties can take official notice of the decision and its reasoning," said Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois. "We will be reaching out to county clerks all around the state hoping that they will also be persuaded by the judge's rationale. After all, the federal court said that it is unconstitutional to deny same-sex couples marriage licenses."

Lawmakers passed the marriage equality bill in the state last fall, but delayed the start of same-sex marriages to June 1, 2014. Some same-sex couples received approval from the courts not to wait due to illnesses.

Last week, Coleman, in a class action case from Cook County, said there was no valid reason to make other same-sex couples wait until June. 

Cherkasov said on Feb. 23, "With the passage of the marriage equality bill, the legislature has already set forth procedures for the clerks to follow and strong protections for religious freedom, so there is no reason to delay the benefits and recognition of marriage to loving, committed couples and their families."

Equality Illinois also over the weekend confirmed that the sponsor of a bill seeking to repeal the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act is halting his effort.  

State Sen. Kyle McCarter, a Republican from Lebanon, acknowledged the futility of continuing to try to overturn the marriage law and announced he was ending his effort to repeal it.

His bill had been scheduled for a hearing this week before the Senate Executive Committee. McCarter, in his statement, said he expected actions in other counties to force them to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples sooner than the June 1 effective date of the law.

Cherkasov said, "But our work is not done. We have seen in other states that marriage opponents have tried to carve out more exemptions and weaken the law, and we must remain vigilant that does not occur in Illinois."