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Illinois Marriage Equality Court Ruling Has Limited Effect, State And Local Officials Say

The Feb. 21 court ruling allowing same-sex couples to marry immediately only applies to Cook County, which includes Chicago, according to state officials. LGBT advocates had been urging last week for immediate statewide application of the ruling.

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One of the first same-sex couples to marry in Chicago after the court's ruling.
AP Photo/M. Spencer Green

One of the first same-sex couples to marry in Chicago after the court's ruling.

A federal court ruling last Friday allowing same-sex couples to obtain marriage licenses immediately in Cook County, Illinois cannot be applied statewide, state officials said — contradicting claims made shortly after the ruling by two groups that brought the lawsuit to court.

Over the weekend, officials in the office of Gov. Pat Quinn consulted with state lawyers in the office of Attorney General Lisa Madigan and concluded the ruling cannot be applied to other counties via a directive from the state government, a Quinn official told BuzzFeed. And other county clerks say they simply lack the authority to issue licenses to same-sex couples ahead of the state's new marriage equality law taking effect on June 1.

In the hours after the ruling was handed down by U.S. District Sharon Johnson Coleman, advocates and lawyers at Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois urged other clerks across the state to adhere to the judge's ruling.

"We believe that other counties should abide by the ruling. The ruling holds that the current marriage law is unconstitutional," ACLU of Illinois communications and public policy director Edwin C. Yohnka told BuzzFeed at the time. "We are urging other clerks to abide by the ruling." Lambda Legal Marriage Project National Director Camilla Taylor, too, said the ruling applies statewide because the judge determined the law was unconstitutional in all circumstances.

Quinn, too, urged other counties to issue licenses and saying in a statement after the ruling, "Every county across the state should enjoy the same freedom without having to wait until June." Despite that, the state does not have the "legal ability" to require other counties to issue licenses to same-sex couples under the ruling, the official said, adding that the ruling only applies to Cook County.

County clerks outside of Cook County appear to view the matter similarly. County clerks in the McHenry, Kane, and Sangamon counties told BuzzFeed they are not issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples and have no reason to believe the ruling extends beyond Cook County.

Sangamon County Clerk Joe Aiello said his office will soon be ready to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, but that the ruling was "clear that it was Cook County only." But Aiello anticipates another lawsuit that could potentially lead to a similar ruling for more counties. Sangamon County includes Springfield, the state's capitol.

"We will wait to see what the courts do and hopefully it will move forward and allow the whole state to do it," he said. "I hope it gets fixed soon. We'd like to accommodate those new customers and welcome them here in this office. We should be ready to go by end of the week."

Kane County Clerk John Cunningham, too, said he understands the ruling to only apply to Cook County, and that his office will continue to assume the June start date for issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples under the new law unless he is told otherwise by his the state's attorney's office.

And when asked if McHenry County will issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples now, County Clerk Katherine Schultz, said, "We will not, that order is for Cook County only." McHenry and Kane counties include suburbs just to the west and northwest of Chicago.

In Cook County, more than 80 same-sex couples have obtained marriage licenses since Friday's ruling, according to Cook County Clerk David Orr.

But, in the absence of similar lawsuits in other counties, it appears that many same-sex couples in Illinois will have to go to Cook County — as six couples had done already by Monday afternoon — or wait until the marriage equality law passed by the General Assembly last year goes into effect to marry in their home counties.

Attorney General Madigan's office did not respond to requests for additional comments.

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