Attorney General Lisa Madigan suggested in a letter Tuesday that county clerks across Illinois can allow same-sex couples to marry now, citing a recent ruling in Cook County.
Illinois became the 16th state to legalize same-sex marriage when Gov. Pat Quinn signed the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act last year, but the law was not scheduled to take effect until June 1.
In a letter to Macon County Clerk Stephen Bean dated Tuesday, Madigan wrote that “the protections guaranteed by the Constitution must exist without regard to county lines.”
Bean wrote to Madigan’s office after U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman ruled on Feb. 21 that Cook County could immediately begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. That ruling, in Lee vs. Orr, applied only to marriages in Cook County because the class-action suit was filed against Cook County Clerk David Orr.
“For the reasons explained in more detail in the legal papers filed in the Lee case, my office’s position is that current Illinois restrictions against same-sex marriage violate the equal protection rights that belong to all citizens under the United States Constitution,” Madigan’s letter said.
The letter goes on to say that although the ruling in Lee is not binding on other counties, a “consistent stream” of federal court rulings have declared restrictions against same-sex marriage unconstitutional.
It concludes by urging each county clerk to consult with his or her state’s attorney and give “full consideration to the rulings in Lee” in deciding whether to issue licenses before June 1, as well as weigh costs and potential outcomes of litigation challenging any denial.
If a couple denied a marriage license sues before the law takes effect in June, Madigan’s office would argue the denial is unconstitutional, the letter says.
“Nobody should have to wait for equal rights when it comes to love,” Gov. Pat Quinn said in a news release regarding Madigan’s letter. “I encourage every county clerk in Illinois to quickly follow the attorney general’s guidance.
“Following this guidance, the Illinois Department of Public Health will now accept all marriage licenses issued by any county clerk in Illinois,” Quinn said.
Cook County Clerk David Orr’s office has issued 258 marriage licenses to same-sex couples as of last Friday, according to the clerk’s official Twitter account.
Clerks in Champaign and McLean Counties have announced that they intend to give marriage licenses to same-sex couples ahead of June 1, citing the federal ruling, according to published reports.
“We applaud the attorney general for her conclusions and urge counties throughout the state to follow through,” Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois, said in a news release.