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New front in gay marriage fight: ACLU, Lambda target Illinois

May 30, 2012|By Michael Muskal

Illinois on Wednesday became the newest battleground in the nation's fight over gay marriage, with the filing of lawsuits seeking to legalize same-sex marriage in the state.

The suits, brought on behalf of more than two dozen gay and lesbian couples, were filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois and the New York advocacy group Lambda Legal, a spokesman for the latter group said by telephone. Lambda represents 16 of the couples.

The couples seek to overturn Illinois' ban on same-sex marriage. The state is one of the approximately 30 where voters have approved amendments limiting marriage to one man and one woman.  

In effect, couples are seeking from the courts what they are not likely to get immediately from the state legislative process. A measure to eliminate the ban on same-sex marriage is pending in the state Legislature, but it probably won't be acted on before the end of the week -- when state lawmakers are scheduled to go home.

Illinois does allow same-sex civil unions, but the plaintiffs argue that such a limitation treats them as legal inferiors. They contend they should be able to marry under due process and equality clauses in Illinois' constitution.

“Plaintiffs challenge their exclusion from civil marriage, and seek to end the stigmatization and disrespect the state imposes upon them and their children by relegating them solely to the inferior status of civil union,” the couples allege in their court filings.

The couples are described in the filings in Circuit Court, Cook County Department, as being in “loving, committed relationships for six to 48 years.” Each couple sought a marriage license in May “but was turned away solely because each plaintiff is the same sex as his or her respective life partner.”

The issue of same-sex marriage has been a factor  in some elections over the years, with conservatives seeking to have the state limit marriage to one man and one woman. There have also been questions about whether civil unions, which afford many of the same legal protections, are sufficient, with advocates saying such unions don’t go far enough and opponents saying they go too far.

President Obama, a former senator from Illinois, famously entered the debate recently by endorsing same-sex marriage, after previously backing civil unions. Likely GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney backs the more conservative position, as do many of the activists in his party.

But marriage is primarily a local, not a federal, issue. The District of Columbia and Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont have legalized gay marriage, through legislation or court action.

Lawsuits similar to the ones in Illinois are pending in other states as well, including New Jersey and Nevada, and have had some success elsewhere.

In Iowa, such a lawsuit resulted in the state Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage.

The Illinois lawsuits are also similar to the initial legal fights in California, which created a version of civil unions. The state’s high court eventually held that any ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.

But conservatives succeeded in getting Proposition 8 on the ballot, and it was passed in 2008. Prop. 8, as it is known, overturned the state court ruling and again barred gay marriage. The issue then went to the federal courts, where Prop. 8 was overturned in lower courts and by the federal appeals court. But the federal courts stayed their decision pending an expected appeal to theU.S. Supreme Court.

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michael.muskal@latimes.com

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