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Illinois gay couples allowed to marry for medical reasons
by Matt Simonette
2013-12-16

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John Knight, Camilla Taylor, Jordan Heinz. Photo by Matt Simonette


A federal judge signed an order Dec. 16 that said same-sex couples wherein a partner faces a serious medical complication can marry ahead of the scheduled June 1 start date when marriage equality takes effect in Illinois.

Couples seeking an early marriage for medical reasons will be able to access a form from their county clerk's office; the form will need to be certified by a physician.

The ruling applies to Cook County only, so residents of other counties would have to obtain their license and marry there.

Forms were expected to be available from the Cook County Clerk's Office by the afternoon of Dec. 16.

Judge Sharon Coleman from the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Illinois issued the ruling. The case is being argued by lawyers from Lambda Legal and ACLU Illinois, as well as the law firms of Kirkland & Ellis and Miller Shakman & Beem.

Two couples have already wed because of Coleman's determination, which was delivered orally on Dec. 9. Elvie Jordan and Challis Gibbs were wed in their North Side home Dec. 12, while Ronald Dorfman and Ken Ilio were married Dec. 13.

The first state-recognized same-sex wedding performed in Illinois took place Nov. 27 when activist and former Cook County State's Attorney Victims Advocate Vernita Gray, who is terminally ill, and her partner, Pat Ewert, were wed at their home.

Two other couples—Brenda Lee and Lee Edwards, and Patricia Tucker and Ingrid Swenson—are named in the Dec. 6 petition but were not addressed in the response since they do not have immediate health concerns. Litigators will file a petition laying out arguments on their behalf in early January.

Following the Dec. 16 hearing, John Knight of ACLU Illinois said, "Today we're happy that the judge has agreed to protect other people who have serious illnesses, and we have an agreement from the State's Attorney and David Orr's office for a simple certification process. …It's a great day for people who need to marry now and deal with emergency situations. Marriage is hugely important for same-sex couples, healthy or otherwise, but for those people, they really need it now."

"This was a bittersweet experience, going into court today," added Camilla Taylor of Lambda Legal. "No one should be denied the [chance to] marry the person you love. …The two couples were able to marry last week, so we're happy for them, and we're proud of the process we put into place that will allow other couples to get married, simply by getting a certification form signed by their doctor."

Jordan Heinz, a lawyer with Kirkland & Ellis, described telling Dorfman and [Elvie] Jordan the news that they would be allowed to wed.

"It was hard for them to really capture it in words," Heinz said. "They've been together for about twenty years each, and it took a while for the two of them to collect themselves, but 'joy' does not even begin to capture what I was hearing on the other side of the phone."

The Dec. 6 petition stated that the plaintiffs contending with illness, and other couples facing similar circumstances, are unfairly treated by having to wait until June for the right to marry.

"If immediate and temporary relief is not granted to Elvie, Challis, Ron, Ken, and the putative subclass, they will be irreparably harmed, because Challis, Ron, and other ill subclass members may not live to see the effective date of the Illinois marriage ban repeal," said the petition. "In light of the unconstitutionality of the State's prior marriage ban, the endorsement by the General Assembly of rights long denied, and the lack of public interest in delay, the issuance of a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction is justified."

The petition further makes the case for a speedy implementation of the change to marriage laws: "First, where a group has long been unjustly denied a basic civil right, the public has an interest in seeing laws rectifying that injustice enforced as quickly as possible. In such a situation, the public has a strong interest in the speedy enactment of legislation that remedies a past constitutional violation. Second, Plaintiffs currently do not have access to federal benefits conferred by State recognition of marriage. … The public interest is served by granting Plaintiffs immediate access to the default processes enjoyed by married couples, because their ongoing provision for their loved ones will be made more efficient and less burdensome to the State."

Dorfman has been diagnosed with systolic congestive heart failure, and his long-term prognosis is not good, according to the petition.

"My cardiologist has therefore urged me to get married as soon as possible," Dorfman said in the complaint. "Ken and I fear that I may not survive to June 2014. I would like to marry him as soon as possible to make sure that we will marry before my health deteriorates completely."

Gibbs was diagnosed with an aggressive form of stage 4 neuroendocrine cancer in November. She and Jordan had planned on waiting until June to marry, but were informed that Gibbs had at most months to live. They were advised to get a civil union as quickly as possible, to ensure Jordan would have access to certain spousal benefits, and did so Nov. 27.

But each partner wanted to have her relationship solemnized as a full marriage. "When I die, I want Elvie to be able to say, 'I lost my wife.' I do not want her to have to say that she lost her civil union partner," Gibbs said in the petition.

During their wedding ceremony, Jordan told Gibbs, "I love you now, and I will love you forever. Your heart is where I live." Gibbs said, simply, "Always."

Coverage including video of one wedding at www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Two-more-Illinois-couples-get-early-marriage-go-ahead/45537.html .

Press release below:

Lambda Legal and ACLU of Illinois Expedite Marriage for Same-sex Couples Facing Urgent Medical Circumstances

Court orders streamlined process allowing couples to avoid court appearances.

(Chicago, IL, December 16, 2013) - Today, a federal court ordered the Cook County Clerk's office to immediately issue marriage licenses to all Illinois same-sex couples who, because of a life-threatening illness, cannot wait until next summer to get married. The order comes after three Illinois couples were granted emergency marriage license applications because one of the partners has a terminal illness. Starting today, couples may marry before June 1, 2014, if they provide a doctor's declaration stating that one or both of them has a life-threatening illness.

The order provides a streamlined process for couples in similarly urgent medical circumstances, allowing a physician to evaluate a person's illness to determine if an emergency marriage license is needed and appropriate. The order allows couples to get the protections and responsibilities of marriage without having to go through a legal and possibly public process during a time when privacy and calm is of utmost importance.

"When you have a terminal illness, every day is significant. 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," said Camilla Taylor, Marriage Project Director for Lambda Legal. "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. We thank the Court and the clerk's office for their swift response to ensure that Illinois couples who are struggling with the challenges of a life-threatening illness will have a chance to be married."

On Monday, Elvie Jordan and Challis Gibbs, and Ronald Dorfman and Ken Ilio were granted marriage license applications after Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Illinois filed suit on behalf of four same-sex couples and then asked for emergency marriage licenses for these two couples and for all other couples facing terminal illness. Mr. Dorfman has been diagnosed with a life-threatening heart condition, and Ms. Gibbs has metastatic cancer and may not be able to wait several months until the default enactment date of the marriage law to get married.

"Judge Coleman's order creates a clear, understandable process for the many couples across Illinois who are facing serious medical conditions - conditions that may result in their never been able to be married," said John Knight, LGBT and AIDS Project Director for the ACLU of Illinois. "The freedom to marry is important for all same-sex couples but becomes extremely important for couples facing serious health conditions. For them, the personal and emotional benefits of marriage, as well as the legal protections it provides, are critical."

The orders were given less than two weeks after Vernita Gray and Patricia Ewert were the first same-sex couple in Illinois to marry; they were issued an emergency marriage license after a lawsuit was filed by Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Illinois. Mr. Dorfman and Mr. Ilio, as well as Ms. Gibbs and Ms. Jordan, contacted the plaintiffs' attorneys describing similarly urgent medical circumstances. The court also certified a broader class of same-sex couples who shouldn't have to wait until June 1, 2014 to get married in Illinois.

Same-sex couples who wish to apply for a marriage license before June 1st, 2014 because one or both partners has a terminal illness can download the necessary doctor's form here: http://www.cookcountyclerk.com/vitalrecords/marriageequality/

The case is Lee v. Orr, see the complaint here: www.lambdalegal.org/in-court/legal-docs/lee_il_20131206_class-action-complaint-for-declarative-and-injunctive-relief .

Read Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Illinois FAW on Illinois marriage here: www.lambdalegal.org/ILoveFAQ .

Lee v. Orr also seeks relief as a class action for all couples in Illinois so that they can get married as soon as possible, without having to wait until June 1st. Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Illinois went to court so that those couples facing a terminal illness get a marriage license immediately.

The ACLU of Illinois and Lambda Legal are joined by attorneys Jordan Heinz, Jeremy Press and Lally Gartel at Kirkland & Ellis and Marc Beem and Kay Dawson at Miller, Shakman and Beem.

To read the full ruling, click the link: www.windycitymediagroup.com/pdf/lee-il-injunctive-relief.pdf .

To read more Marriage Equality FAQs click on the link: www.cookcountyclerk.com/vitalrecords/marriageequality/Pages/default.aspx .


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