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Wedding bells ring early for same-sex couples in Illinois’ Cook County

Friday, February 21, 2014
Cook County Clerk David Orr, left, performs a marriage ceremony for Theresa Volpe, second from left, and Mercedes Santos on Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, in Chicago.

M. Spencer Green, AP
Cook County Clerk David Orr, left, performs a marriage ceremony for Theresa Volpe, second from left, and Mercedes Santos on Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, in Chicago.

CHICAGO — Jubilant same-sex couples began lining up for marriage licenses in Chicago on Friday after a federal judge ruled there was no reason for residents of Illinois’ largest county to wait until the state’s new gay marriage law takes effect, a decision some hope will prompt county clerks statewide to begin issuing the documents.

U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman ruled that Illinois’ original ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. That means that even though a state law legalizing same-sex marriage takes effect on June 1, there is nothing to stop couples from marrying now.

The ruling applies only to Cook County, where Chicago is located, because the suit was filed against County Clerk David Orr.

M. Spencer Green, APCharlie Gurion, center, and David Wilk hold up their marriage license as Cook County Clerk David Orr, left looks on Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, in Chicago.

M. Spencer Green, AP
Charlie Gurion, center, and David Wilk hold up their marriage license as Cook County Clerk David Orr, left looks on Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, in Chicago.

David Wilk leaps across the counter to hug Cook County Clerk's office employee Louisa Nicotera after obtaining a marriage license with partner Charlie Gurion, left, Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, in Chicago.

M. Spencer Green, AP
David Wilk leaps across the counter to hug Cook County Clerk’s office employee Louisa Nicotera after obtaining a marriage license with partner Charlie Gurion, left, Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, in Chicago.

Orr, who supports same-sex marriage, said it was a “historical day,” and performed the first wedding ceremony after the ruling — for one of the couples that sued him. Mercedes Santos and Theresa Volpe of Chicago were granted a waiver from the traditional 24-hour waiting period.

“I think this has really put the … stamp of approval on the fact that no matter your family makeup, your family is important and marriage is important; equality is important,” said Volpe. “Our children now can look at their family and know they’re as equal as their cousins’ families and their friends’ (families).”

Orr said any Illinois couple can get a marriage license in Cook County as long as the wedding takes place there.

The ruling could be a signal to clerks in other counties that they also should start issuing licenses, said Christopher Clark, an attorney at Lambda Legal in Chicago, which filed the lawsuit. But some clerks said they’ll seek legal advice first.

“We want to be absolutely certain that before we move forward … that anything we do is unquestionably valid,” said Gordy Hulten, clerk in central Illinois’ Champaign County.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, who signed the marriage law in November, issued a statement saying that “every county across the state should enjoy the same freedom without having to wait until June.”

But David Smith, executive director of the conservative Illinois Family Institute, said the judge circumvented the political process unnecessarily.

“The issue was already … solved by the legislature,” Smith said, though he added that he didn’t agree with the legislators’ decision.

Officials with the Catholic Conference of Illinois and the Thomas More Society — a Chicago public interest law firm that helped defend the state’s same-sex marriage ban in a 2012 state lawsuit — would not comment on Friday.

Coleman wrote that there was “no reason to delay further when no opposition has been presented to this Court and committed gay and lesbian couples have already suffered from the denial of their fundamental right to marry.” Coleman already ruled in December that same-sex couples could marry immediately if one or both partners had a life-threatening illness. Several same-sex couples married after that ruling.

Advocates for same-sex marriage immediately celebrated Friday’s ruling, and Orr said his office would be open two hours later on Friday, until 7 p.m., to accommodate any couples who wanted to get their marriage licenses after work.

When Charlie Gurion learned of the ruling via Facebook, he immediately called his fiance, David Wilk, and asked him to take a break from work to get a license. They arrived about an hour later and were first in line.

Wilk, 31, broke into tears after they received their license, which is good for 60 days.

“I feel like my love for him is stronger; I wasn’t expecting to feel that rush of emotion,” Wilk said of Gurion, 25. “It just feels different now. I want to go home and … tell everybody what we just did. It feels right.”

The couple, who were engaged in Paris last year, will get married Saturday by a judge but will go ahead with a big celebration they’ve been planning for their original wedding date, Sept. 19.

Sara Kujawa was sitting in a car waiting for her partner, Carolyn Kujawa, to come out of a bank when she heard about the ruling. They headed straight to the clerk’s office and were the second couple to get a license.

They have a young son and are already joined in a civil union, but “it’s important to have the same thing as everyone else,” Sara Kujawa said.

Same-sex marriage legislation was fought hard by some of Illinois’ most well-recognized religious figures, including Cardinal Francis George of the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Rev. James Meeks, a former state senator who runs a politically influential megachurch in Chicago.

Although Illinois once appeared poised to become the first Midwestern state to approve gay marriage in the Legislature, Minnesota did it sooner and started allowing same-sex weddings over the summer. Iowa also allows gay marriages because of a court ruling, not a legislative vote.

Illinois’ first same-sex couple to wed — Vernita Gray and her partner of five years, Patricia Ewert — did so in late November after an expedited marriage license was granted because Gray was terminally ill with cancer.

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26 more reader comments:

  1. This makes me happy

    Posted on Saturday, February 22, 2014 at 1:26am
  2. They look happy :) good for them

    Posted on Saturday, February 22, 2014 at 1:30am
  3. Romans 1:18-32

    Posted on Saturday, February 22, 2014 at 1:33am
  4. Can you be a little more specific?

    Replied on Saturday, February 22, 2014 at 2:28am
  5. Why are these licenses only good for 60 days, and What happens after that.

    Posted on Saturday, February 22, 2014 at 1:39am
  6. Aw, you should honeymoon here in Scottsdale, AZ and have a very nice dinner. Wait, hold on…don’t make those plans yet. We’re still trying to work out all the bigots.

    Posted on Saturday, February 22, 2014 at 1:43am
  7. NONONO - ANY place other than Arizona...

    Replied on Saturday, February 22, 2014 at 2:15am
  8. Welcome to Arizona! We Accept Everyone!* * - Please read the fine print for who we discriminate against before crossing the border(s.) Hell, just go to California, instead. I heard they have great seafood there.

    Replied on Saturday, February 22, 2014 at 2:22am
  9. Ill stay in AZ.

    Replied on Saturday, February 22, 2014 at 6:33pm
  10. Unfortunately, so will I for the time being. But, it's a plus so people can know there are still opened minded people with open arms here and not all closed minded bigots.

    Replied on Saturday, February 22, 2014 at 6:45pm
  11. Now the 34 states that are currently defying the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution by refusing same-sex civil marriage in their states need to come on board for equality. Sue, sue, sue, sue, sue.

    Posted on Saturday, February 22, 2014 at 1:51am
  12. So, Gordon R. McCoy what are you waiting for? Blessings!

    Posted on Saturday, February 22, 2014 at 2:50am
  13. Congratulations newlyweds :-)

    Posted on Saturday, February 22, 2014 at 2:53am
  14. I am confused by one thing. If the state already passed a law legalizing same sex marriage why was the federal court still involved?

    Posted on Saturday, February 22, 2014 at 3:22am
  15. The state won't start giving out marriage licenses until June 1st. However, the court ruled to start handing them out early in Cook County only.

    Replied on Saturday, February 22, 2014 at 4:12am
  16. I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman

    Posted on Saturday, February 22, 2014 at 3:28am
  17. And you have the right to your own beliefs, as do we. Let's just agree to disagree.

    Replied on Saturday, February 22, 2014 at 4:11am
  18. Congrats and love!! XO

    Posted on Saturday, February 22, 2014 at 3:51am
  19. yes go baby gpo

    Posted on Saturday, February 22, 2014 at 5:42am
  20. Good morning,

    we would like to introduce to you our LGBTI-Hymn LOVE IS NOT FOR PROPAGANDA. It’s a wonderful song in support of equal rights. We want to highlight the horrific situation for the LGBTI community in Russia and in many parts of the world.

    Please help us to share it with your community. All proceeds of the song will be donated to the LGBTI community in Russia.

    Thank you for your support!

    Kind regards from Berlin, Germany

    Alfonso Pantisano
    Enough is Enough! Open Your Mouth!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MfGyUG5q9m8

    Posted on Saturday, February 22, 2014 at 7:03am
  21. SPREAD THE LOVE AROUND!

    Posted on Saturday, February 22, 2014 at 7:56am
  22. Posted on Saturday, February 22, 2014 at 12:58pm
  23. Congratulations to all the happy newlyweds!

    Posted on Saturday, February 22, 2014 at 1:06pm
  24. Awesome. I think we’re waiting till July for our wedding. Chicago, here we come!!!

    Posted on Saturday, February 22, 2014 at 1:25pm
  25. Help us! We are seeking a pro bono attorney to file an immediate federal court injunction on our behalf. http://youtu.be/vbzkYuULir8

    The injunction would seek to halt the harm we could face this very today, should one of us die before PA and federal cases arrive at the U. S. Supreme Court, anticipated to take five years.

    At our advance age, etc., we likely would not survive five years, nor the crushing estate taxes that target us this very today for punishment in Pennsylvania.

    By halting the harm immediately, our surviving legally-married spouse would be spared the crushing taxes that could evict him from his own home. Should SCOTUS rule against marriage equality in five years, at least our surviving spouse might be also be dead by then and thus be spared the harm and indignity of the threat of eviction for a tax sale of his own home.

    You might suggest we move tomorrow to a free state, one that doesn’t punish married couples born like us?

    What American citizen, lawfully married somewhere, would accept that particular indignity? We simply want to be able to live and die in our own home of thirty years.

    This coming September, we’d be together in love at first sight for 38 years, we should each live so long.

    Thank you.

    Revs. Tim and Earl
    Easton, Pennsylvania

    http://www.freedomtomarry.org/blog/entry/tim-earl-after-37-years-we-cant-wait-longer-for-the-freedom-to-marry-in-our

    http://www.wfmz.com/news/PA-gay-marriage-ban-injunction-sought/-/121458/21120762/-/156pjtp/-/index.html

    http://easton.patch.com/groups/around-town/p/easton-couple-says-same-sex-marriage-ban-forcing-them-out-of-pa?fb_action_ids=10200120751576077&fb_action_types=og.likes&fb_source=timeline_og&action_object_map=%7B%2210200120751576077%22%3A374161782712213%7D&action_type_map=%7B%2210200120751576077%22%3A%22og.likes%22%7D&action_ref_map=%5B%5D

    Please join this new Facebook Group: https://www.facePlease join this new Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/Time4MarriageEqualityInPennsylprejudice/

    A final word on the topic of marriage equality in Pennsylprejudice: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=78uN_TxnnSA

    Posted on Saturday, February 22, 2014 at 3:53pm
  26. :-) Progress!

    Posted on Saturday, February 22, 2014 at 11:14pm