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Court gives immediate marriage equality in Cook County
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by Matt Simonette
2014-02-21

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Forty-six LGBT couples rushed to Cook County Clerk David Orr's office Feb. 21 to get the first marriage licenses after a federal judge ruled earlier that day that same-sex couples would not have to wait until June 1 to be married.

Judge Sharon Coleman's ruling said the state's ban on gay marriages is unconstitutional, and that marriages for gay couples can begin immediately. Same-sex couples who had already been legally married in other states would have those marriages recognized immediately, the Clerk's Office said.

The ruling applies only in Cook County, where the initial lawsuits were filed. Residents of other Illinois counties would have to travel there to get their license and be married.

[Additional photos at the link: www.windycitymediagroup.com/gay/lesbian/news/photospreadthumbs.php .

The County Clerk's Office was kept open an extra two hours Feb. 21 and was prepared for the ruling. Shortly before 1 p.m, the first same-sex couple of the day had obtained their license. Chicagoans Charles Gurion and David Wilk heard about the ruling on the news and decided to go get the license.

"I only just heard about this and hour and a half ago, and convinced him an hour ago," Gurion said.

Sara and Carolyn Kujawa were the first female couple to obtain their license, which was also the result of a spontaneous decision; Sara learned of the ruling as she waited for Carolyn in their bank's parking lot. They had a civil union already but were excited about the ruling.

Holding their 15-month-old son, Ronan, Sara said, "We're a family, and we shouldn't have to call it something different."

Some couples drove from the far suburbs of Chicago—North, West and South—and one couple, Laura Meli and Marissa Meli, drove all the way from Champaign, where they are in law school. They have been together more than eight years, and Laura's mom was with them to get their license.

Another couple to be married that afternoon was Theresa and Mercedes Santos-Volpe, who were plaintiffs in lawsuits that ultimately led to the Feb. 21 ruling.

"These two have been suing me for years," joked Orr, whose office has not defended itself against suits filed on behalf of same-sex couples wishing to marry.

Judge James Snyder issued an order that allowed Theresa and Mercedes to be married immediately, without the requisite 24-hour waiting period. The ceremony was performed by Orr as the press watched.

"When we met one another, we didn't have the words for it, but we knew we wanted to be married," said Theresa. "When you meet somebody and you know they're truly your soulmate, you think, 'That's the person I want to spend the rest of my life with.'"

Christopher Clark of Lambda Legal said Theresa and Mercedes helped "set us on the path of marriage equality."

Chicagoans Jeff Woods and Tom Wray came in after work after hearing the news. They'd had a civil union ceremony last year during International Mister Leather. "In some ways, it's just a formality, but it's a formality we welcome," Woods said.

County Clerk officials by late afternoon were reminding couples in civil unions that if they chose to marry before June 1, they would not be able to have their marriage license date backdated to the day of their civil union.

"We've got so many anniversaries, it didn't matter to us," Woods said. "There's no legal reason for us to need it backdated."

The ruling was issued by Judge Sharon Coleman, who previously ruled that couples wherein partners were facing terminal illness could marry prior to the originally planned June start date.

Camilla Taylor of Lambda Legal, one of the lawyers who argued the case, said, "Now, there will be no more delays. The court has decided on the side of equality and liberty."

Ed Yohnka of ACLU Illinois, added, "We're thrilled the judge has recognized the harm that was done by this delay. It's going to be a happy day, and a happy week ahead."

Both Taylor and Yohnka said they were hopeful the ruling would be applied in other counties as well.

Orr also said he hoped the other 101 county clerks would also honor this ruling, whether run by Democrats or Republicans.

"If were a lawyer advising other county clerks, I would tell them that this delay is inappropriate," Taylor said.

"We've had a federal judge rule that the ban in unconstitutional," added Yohnka.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel released a statement Feb. 21 praising the ruling.

"Today a federal judge affirmed that love does not discriminate and that all gays and lesbians in Cook County should have the right to marry," Emanuel said. "Chicago welcomes all couples to get married here to celebrate their love and to have the bonds of their family acknowledged under law. I look forward to the day where every American enjoys the same freedom to marry, and when our country can provide equal rights to every man or woman—gay or straight."

Gov. Pat Quinn also stated on Feb. 21, "Many couples in Illinois have waited long enough for marriage equality, and today's ruling means thousands of Illinois couples no longer have to wait. Our law is a victory for equal rights in America, and shows that citizens and lawmakers can come together on issues of fairness and human rights."

Information about obtaining a marriage license can be found at cookcountyclerk.com .

— Also contributing: Tracy Baim

See the ruling here: www.aclu-il.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/001-Class-Action-Complaint-for-Declaratory-and-Injunctive-Relief.pdf .

Videos below by Tracy Baim/Windy City Times

Windy City Times: Theresa & Mercedes Santos-Volpe get married in Illinois 2-21-2014 at the link: www.youtube.com/watch .

Windy City Times: Cook County Clerk David Orr issues marriage licenses 2-21-2014 at the link www.youtube.com/watch .

Windy City Times: 2-21-2014 Marriages at Cook County Clerk's office 1: Chloe & Jenna www.youtube.com/watch .

Windy City Times: 2-21-2014 Marriages at Cook County Clerk's office 2: Evette and Mona www.youtube.com/watch .

Windy City Times: 2-21-2014 Marriages at Cook County Clerk's office 3: Emily and Lynn at the link www.youtube.com/watch .

Windy City Times: 2-21-2014 Marriages at Cook County Clerk's office 4: Joe and Paul at the linkwww.youtube.com/watch .

Windy City Times: 2-21-2014 Marriages at Cook County Clerk's office 5: Adiana and Elizabeth at the link www.youtube.com/watch .

Windy City Times: 2-21-2014 Marriages at Cook County Clerk's office 6: Mike and Donn at the link www.youtube.com/watch .

Windy City Times: 2-21-2014 Marriages at Cook County Clerk's office 7: Laura and Marissa at the link www.youtube.com/watch .

Windy City Times: 2-21-2014 Marriages at Cook County Clerk's office 8: Ryan and Steven at the link www.youtube.com/watch .

Windy City Times: 2-21-2014 Marriages at Cook County Clerk's office 9: Sean and Alfonzo at the

link www.youtube.com/watch .

Windy City Times: 2-21-2014 Marriages at Cook County Clerk's office 10: Tim and Rich at the

link www.youtube.com/watch .

Windy City Times: 2-21-2014 Marriages at Cook County Clerk's office 11: Miguel and Roger at the

link www.youtube.com/watch .

Windy City Times: 2-21-2014 Marriages at Cook County Clerk's office 12: Greg and Chris at the

link www.youtube.com/watch .

Windy City Times: 2-21-2014 Marriages at Cook County Clerk's office 13: Nat and Cynthia at the

link www.youtube.com/watch .

Windy City Times: 2-21-2014 Marriages at Cook County Clerk's office 14: Tammy and Joanne at the link www.youtube.com/watch .

Windy City Times: 2-21-2014 Marriages at Cook County Clerk's office 14: Tammy and Joanne



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