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July 13, 2012

Downstate clerks will defend Illinois marriage ban

Chicago--A Cook County judge on July 3 granted permission to a pair of county clerks from the state’s conservative south to defend the state’s anti-marriage law against a duo of challenges that have been combined into one suit.

Christie Webb of Tazewell County and Kerry Hirtzel of Effingham County are both represented by the Thomas More Society, a national right-wing religious nonprofit law firm. Its name honors the Catholic chancellor of England who opposed King Henry VIII’s efforts to enthrone himself as the head of the Church of England.

Webb’s county is in central Illinois, while Hirtzel’s is in the south of the state. However, once outside the Chicago area, the state as a whole becomes less progressive.

Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union, the groups that filed the lawsuits that were joined into one last month, did not oppose the motion to allow the clerks to defend the law.

The motion was necessitated by the refusal of the Cook County state attorney and the Illinois attorney general to defend the law. Both said they agree with the lawsuit, as did defendant David Orr, the Cook County clerk.

The suit alleges that Orr violated the due process and equal protection constitutional rights of 25 same-sex couples by not granting them marriage licenses. Illinois has a statutory ban on same-sex marriage, but not a state constitutional amendment.

Illinois passed a civil union law last year, but the couples in the suit said that civil unions are not legally equivalent to marriage, and many people and institutions do not know what a civil union is.

Thomas More Society attorney Peter Breen filed a motion to dismiss the suits, and Cook County Circuit Court Judge Sophia Hall set a hearing date of September 27 for that motion.

On June 24, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn expressed support for same-sex marriage at Chicago’s Pride festivities. After earlier saying that he needed to study legislation introduced to allow same-sex marriage, he now supports a bill introduced by three state lawmakers in February, but which has not yet moved in the legislature.

Quinn pointed to civil unions being performed across the state as a solid foundation for extending full marriage rights to same-sex couples. He also said that President Barack Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage would also help the bill’s support.

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