Illinois is the latest state set for a court debate on the ban of same-sex marriage, after a judge ruled on Tuesday that opponents of traditional marriage will have to face those defending the 1996 ruling that limits marriage between one man and one woman.
The case was brought to the forefront when the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit on May 30 against Chicago's Cook County Clerk David Orr, who chose to defend the traditional definition of marriage by citing the 1996 law, Reuters reported. Under state terms, civil unions between same-sex couples are permitted, but out-of-state gay marriages are not recognized.
In the latest Illinois case debate, Democratic legislators Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez failed to successfully defend the state law banning same-sex marriage, but Democrat Christie Webb of Tazewell County and Republican Kerry Hirtzel of Effingham County, both clerks, cited the law saying that the ban should stand.
Cook County Circuit Court Judge Sophia Hall made the decision on Tuesday to allow the two clerks to intervene in the case and petition for the state law.
The ACLU hopes to prove that the state law is unconstitutional. Earlier this year, Washington became the seventh state in the U.S. to legalize same-sex marriage, although the issue will again be voted on in November. States such as Massachusetts and Iowa have legalized gay marriage by declaring their state ban unconstitutional rather than by a vote of from lawmakers. The ACLU is hoping it can force the same change on Illinois.
"The battle is joined," said Peter Breen, executive director of the Thomas More Society, a nonprofit Christian law firm defending the clerks in the case. "There will be a defense of the law which is the great news of today."
Camilla Taylor, Lambda Legal's marriage project director, shared in a statement that she is welcoming of the debate but hopes that gay marriage will be legalized through the state court.
"While these two clerks do not have any legal right to intervene in someone else's lawsuit simply to share their opinion about what they want the law to be, we are not opposing their participation under the unique circumstances in this case because it is important that everyone feel as though the opposing arguments were fairly presented," Taylor explained.
"Debating this any further is a distraction – what's important is to make sure our couples can tell their powerful stories in court. Therefore, we have agreed, along with the State's Attorney and the Attorney General, that these clerks may present arguments in defense of Illinois' discriminatory marriage ban," she added.
The Thomas Moore Society has insisted, however, that the law is on its side and has expressed gratitude to the judge for allowing its attorneys to intervene in the case.
"We are grateful for the opportunity to serve as special Assistant State's Attorneys for Tazewell and Effingham Counties in Illinois, and we are honored to represent these County Clerks in mounting a robust effort to defend Illinois marriage laws," said Tom Brejcha, president and chief counsel of Thomas More Society, in a statement.
Brejcha added that the Society believes the state's laws are "fully constitutional" and promised that "this case will be professionally defended and litigated, if need be, all the way up to the Supreme Court so that marriage laws will be uniform and fully enforceable throughout our entire State of Illinois."