Illinois Same-Sex Couples Facing Death Can Marry Early

Same-sex couples who may be running out of time due to terminal illness won’t have to wait to marry any longer.

Jim Darby (left) kisses Patrick Bova, his partner of 50 years, during the state’s marriage equality bill-signing ceremony Nov. 20. Jim Young / Reuters

Starting Monday, Illinois same-sex couples facing terminal illness can marry — nearly six months ahead of the state’s new marriage equality law taking effect, a federal judge in Chicago ruled.

U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman has ordered the Cook County Clerk’s office to immediately issue marriage licenses to all Illinois same-sex couples who can provide a doctor’s declaration stating that one or both of them has a life-threatening illness that would prevent them from marrying after the marriage equality law takes effect June 1.

“When you have a terminal illness, every day is significant,” Camilla Taylor, Marriage Project director for Lambda Legal, said in a statement. “Even though we know the freedom to marry is coming to Illinois, the default implementation date of the new law is too far away for these couples. While no one should be told that they cannot marry for a period of months, for couples who are dealing with a life-threatening medical condition, the delay in implementing Illinois’ marriage law could turn out to be an absolute bar to being married at all.”

The order only applies to Cook County, but allows same-sex couples from other counties throughout the state to seek a marriage license in Cook County if their marriage takes place within the county, according to Courtney Greve, a spokeswoman for the Cook County Clerk David Orr.

“The [court’s] injunction was directed only to Orr, so he is the only the one who must enforce this decision — just Cook County,” Greve said.

Johnson Coleman’s ruling allows same-sex couples in need of an emergency marriage license to apply for one instead of taking their individual cases to court — as three same-sex couples already have done. In fact, Johnson Coleman already granted licenses to two of the same-sex couples named in the lawsuit seeking Monday’s ruling and another federal judge granted a license to a similarly situated couple late last month.

BuzzFeed first reported news of the case on Sunday night. Lambda Legal would not provide information about the case on Friday or over the weekend, with a spokesperson telling BuzzFeed only that information would be available on Monday after the hearing.

The new process, which Orr tweeted is already available, offers a streamlined application for these couples, according to Lambda Legal.

“The requirement is that rather than go to court, there is going to be a physician’s certification form that couples will need to get filled out by their doctor and we have agreed to put that form on our website for the couples to download and use,” Greve told BuzzFeed.

The case, Lee et al v. Orr, was filed on Dec. 6 and is led by attorneys from Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois on behalf of couples Brenda Lee and Lee Edwards; Patricia Tucker and Ingrid Swenson; Elvie Jordan and Challis Gibbs; and Ronald Dorfman and Kenneth Ilio. Gibbs suffers from stage 4 metastatic neuroendocrine cancer and Dorfman has systolic congestive heart failure with a complete blockage of his right coronary artery, according to court documents.

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