Last December, Illinois lawmakers approved same-sex marriage. Same-sex couples who were only allowed to file for civil union before the new legislation can finally apply for a marriage license starting June 1. While the approval was warmly received, there was opposition on why the new law wouldn’t take effect until June. Now, courts in Cook County are already allowing same-sex partners to marry, even before the new law officially takes effect.
After the new marriage law passed in 2013, a number of couples sued David Orr, the Cook County Clerk, for not letting them marry immediately after the bill’s approval. When the case came before Sharon Johnson Coleman, U.S. District Judge, she stated that there was no reason to further delay the right to marry when there was no opposition to the bill in the first place and couples had already suffered from the denial of their right to marry. Coleman said that the June 1 effective date violated the Constitutional rights of couples. However, her findings were only applicable to Cook County, based on the court case that was brought to her.
The same district judge was instrumental in ruling on another provision that allowed same-sex couples to marry before June 1. Late in 2013, she ruled that an emergency license could be obtained if one partner had a life-threatening illness. Some couples have already obtained licenses based on that premise. The County Clerk supported the ruling and even kept the downtown Chicago clerk’s office open for two extra hours the day the ruling was handed down in order to accommodate same-sex couples who wanted marriage licenses.
As same-sex couples from Cook County take the next step, legal guidance may be invaluable. Marriage can open up many legal issues. This includes assets and property and the custody of children. While same-sex couples finally reap the rewards of being able to marry, they should also take the time to sort out legal issues to avoid potential problems.
Source: Reuters, “Same-sex couples allowed to wed in Cook County, Illinois,” James B. Kelleher, Feb. 21, 2014