Cook County is issuing marriage licenses to gay couples

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A judge has removed a delay in marriages for gay couples in Chicago.

A federal judge on Feb. 21 said there's no reason for same-sex couples in Cook County to wait until June to marry.

Lawmakers enacted a marriage equality bill last fall and the first same-sex couples married in the state late in 2013, after receiving permission from the courts because of extenuating circumstances, including illness.

Now, said U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman, there's no reason for other same-sex couples to wait in Cook County. It was not clear whether the court's decision in a class action suit would impact the June date in other parts of the state.

Coleman, in her decision, said the question before her was "why should we wait." She took guidance from Martin Luther King Jr. and said "the time is always ripe to do right."

Soon after the judge released the order, Cook County began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

At Equality Illinois, CEO Bernard Cherkasov said, "Tens of thousands of Illinois couples have been waiting for a long time, some for decades, for their love, commitment and marriage to be recognized. This day — and the opportunity to finally get married — could not have come sooner. We congratulate all of the couples and their families, and the people of Illinois on this significant day." 

Christopher Clark, an attorney for Lambda Legal, said, "The wait is over! We are thrilled that the court recognized the unfairness of forcing same-sex couples to wait for months to marry. Justice has prevailed and full equality is no longer delayed for Illinoisans who wish to marry in Cook County before June 1."

John Knight, LGBT and AIDS project director for the ACLU of Illinois, added, "We’re thrilled that Judge Coleman recognized the serious harm to the many Illinois families from continuing to deny them the freedom to marry. The U.S. Constitution guarantees these families the personal and emotional benefits as well as the critical legal protections of marriage now, and we are thankful that the court extended this dignity to couples immediately."

Same-sex marriage is legal in 17 states and the District of Columbia.

Lawsuits for marriage equality are pending in at least 20 other states, including Wisconsin.