Yesterday, same-sex marriage was cleared by a judge in Illinois, allowing same-sex couples to marry within Cook County several months before the state as a whole legalizes same-sex marriages. This is a move which may have changed the landscape of the marriage equality battle for good. Illinois passed a law allowing same-sex marriage in the state last November; however, the law will not be taking effect until June.
Shortly after the law was passed, an amendment was made to it, which allowed terminally ill patients to marry their same-sex partners before the law came into full effect in June.
Now, Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman explained that there is no good reason for any couples in Illinois’s most populous county to have to wait until the law comes into effect. The decision was made with regards to a class-action law suit that was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal. The suit was made on behalf of same-sex couples in the county who did not want to wait until June to marry. However, the two defendants that were named in the suit, Lisa Madigan, the Attorney General, and David Orr, the Cook County clerk, both decided that there was no need for a delay and declined to participate. Thus, the judge ruled that, for Cook County’s same-sex couples, which includes residents of Chicago and the surrounding areas, same-sex marriage would be able to be performed effective immediately.
Same-sex couples and their families rejoiced at the ruling, and many of them rushed to get married the very same day.
Though this may be a very specific situation in Cook County, Illinois, the ruling that a specific county is able to perform legally-recognized same-sex marriages before a state’s same-sex marriage laws come into effect may change how the fight for marriage equality functions as a whole. If the fight is really against a vocal minority, then this may open a new opportunity for supporters of marriage equality in bringing legal marriage to same-sex couples around the united states, regardless of the state’s legal alignment.
While it may not be possible to create a loophole like this in places where the opposition is heavy, many citizens of highly conservative states have responded to accusations and stereotyping of their states as backwards with regards to social equality saying that there has always been respect and support for LGBT folk. So, given the correct circumstances – a county with little opposition to same-sex marriage in a state with no same-sex marriage ban, a benevolent judge, and a strong case – marriage equality activists may be able to circumvent the system to bring legal marriage same-sex couples across the United States.
In her ruling, Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman quoted Martin Luther King Jr., saying, “The time is always ripe to do right.” Her decision to allow same-sex marriage in Cook County before it is legally allowed across the rest of Illinois may have changed the face of the marriage equality fight in America. It may not be long before news of individual counties around the United States allowing same-sex marriage hits the proverbial news stands; only then will it be known for sure just how much of an effect this turn of events in favor of the lucky Chicago-area couples has had.
Opinion By Robin Syrenne