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Couples in Illinois gay marriage lawsuit urge state legislators to pass marriage equality bill

By Tony Merevick| Chicago Phoenix
Thursday, November 29, 2012
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Several gay and lesbian couples who are plaintiffs in a legal challenge to a state law prohibiting the recognition of same-sex marriages met with state legislators in Springfield Wednesday and urged them to vote for a bill that would legalize gay marriage in Illinois.

The couples, some of whom traveled from across the state, are plaintiffs in Darby v. Orr or Lazaro v. Orr, a combined legal challenge to Illinois’ ban on same-sex marriage, comprising 25 gay and lesbian couples and spearheaded by the ACLU of Illinois and Lambda Legal. For the first time, the meeting brings together the two simultaneous pathways the LGBT community and its allies are utilizing to achieve full marriage equality in the state: the case in the courts and a bill in the legislature.

Couple at podium: Patrick Bova (left), James Darby (right).
Photo via: Lambda Legal

“We want our lawmakers to know how important this is to our family,” said Anne Dickey, plaintiff in Darby v. Orr. “Whether it is through the courts or the legislature, we need the freedom to marry.”

With the state legislature’s lame duck session already underway and an increased Democratic majority entering the General Assembly in 2013, LGBT rights activists and organizations say a vote on HB5710, or “The Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act,” could come as early as January, while the ACLU, Lambda cases are in the early stages of trial.

“Our family, our love and our commitment deserves the recognition and dignity of marriage,” said Richard Rykhus, a plaintiff in Lazaro v. Orr. ”We believe that Illinois law should recognize fully the family that we have built together.”

The 20 plaintiffs in attendance were joined by out Reps. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago) and Deb Mell (D-Chicago) in urging other members of the legislature to vote for marriage equality for all Illinois couples. The marriage bill was introduced in February by gay Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), Cassidy and Mell, but it has since been stalled in rules committee until they and other supporters can secure enough votes to pass the law. A fourth out representative, Sam Yingling (D-Grayslake), will join the General Assembly in January.

In the courts, the case for marriage equality has been met only by anti-gay or religious organizations wishing to preserve the “definition of marriage.”

Days after the lawsuits were filed May 30, the Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office filed papers agreeing that banning same-sex couples from marriage is unconstitutional. Cook County Clerk David Orr (the named defendant in the suits) and Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez quickly came out in support of marriage equality as well.

The Thomas More Society, a conservative legal group is representing two downstate county clerks who were granted permission to intervene in the case to preserve the ban. Other groups, including the Illinois Family Insitute, a Southern Poverty Law Center classified anti-gay hate group, have requested to intervene in the case as well.

The Lambda Legal lawsuit team consists of Camilla Taylor, National Marriage Project director and Christopher Clark, senior staff attorney in Lambda Legal’s Midwest Regional Office along with Emily Nicklin, Jordan M. Heinz and Amy Crawford of Kirkland & Ellis LLP. Representing plaintiffs in the ACLU’s Lazaro case are John Knight, Harvey Grossman, Karen Sheley and lawyers at the Chicago office of Mayer Brown.

County Circuit Court Judge Sophia hall is expected to rule Nov. 30 on pending requests from three religious groups to defend the state’s ban on same-sex marriage starting 11 a.m. at the Richard J. Daley Center, 30 W. Washington Ave. in the Loop.

Editor’s note: We incorrectly reported that the Lazaro plaintiffs are represented by lawyers of Kirkland & Ellis LLP, when they are actually represented by the ACLU’s John Knight and others, as corrected above. Chicago Phoenix regrets the error.

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