Lake County has reversed its policy of denying civil union licenses to same-sex couples who travel from states that do not recognize the unions, just days after an Indiana couple reported they were turned away.
Gina Osting-Riddle and Andrea Riddle filed a complaint in Lake County on March 30 because they were denied a civil union license. According to Osting-Riddle, County Clerk employees told them that because their home state of Indiana prohibited civil unions, Lake County could not issue them a civil union certificate.
Civil unions are not prohibited in Indiana. Rather, they are not recognized, and other Illinois counties have issued Indiana couples civil union licenses.
Osting-Riddle and Riddle had told Windy City Times that they drove more than four hours to the Clerk's office in Waukegan, IL from their Fairmount, IN home. They brought with them their children and extended families in hopes of tying of the knot in Illinois and returning by April 2 when Osting-Riddle's father started chemotherapy treatments.
But when they arrived in Lake County, they were turned away.
"I was crying after we left the courthouse," Osting-Riddle said. "It was like a Julia Roberts moment. ... We have one girl flipping her hair and telling me I'm below her standards."
The couple obtained a civil union license in Cook County the following day.
Lake County Clerk Willard Helander confirmed that the couple was denied a license and that her county did have a policy of rejecting applications from states that did not recognize the unions.
"This is the first person that has come from another state that we have not served," Helander said.
According to Helander, the decision to deny applications from states like Indiana originated from another County policy regarding state rules and marriage. Lake County borders Wisconsin, a state that does not allow a person to remarry within six months of divorce. Helander said that her office denied Wisconsin residents marriage licenses if they were in violation of that Wisconsin rule.
In similar fashion, Helander said, State's attorneys had determined that Lake County could not issue civil union licenses to residents from states that did not recognize the unions.
But after turning away Osting-Riddle and Riddle, Helander said, her office received a called from Equality Illinois CEO Bernard Cherkasov.
"From the very beginning, I got the sense that [Helander] was just trying to do what was right and follow the law," Cherkasov said.
Cherkasov told Helander that the intent of the Civil Union Act was to allow couples to obtain civil unions across state lines and that other counties had issued such licenses. Equality Illinois also sent Lake County a legal compliance letter.
Helander said that her attorneys agreed that Lake County could reverse the policy.
Asked about the perception that homophobia was the root cause of the measure, Helander said, "I can say unequivocally, no one in this office is homophobic."
Helander reported that to date, Lake County has issued 143 civil union licenses.
Cherkasov said this is the first instance in which someone has complained to Equality Illinois about civil union licenses and Lake County.
"The important thing is that it was resolved very quickly and positively," he said.