As the gay and lesbian community in Illinois celebrates the first anniversary of a state law that allows civil unions, two lawsuits filed in Illinois challenge another state law that does not allow same-sex marriage.
And, a federal court in Boston has ruled that the 1996 federal marriage ban—the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)—violated the equal protection rights of several gay employees of the state of California.
Nearly 5,000 couples have entered into civil unions since the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act went into effect June 1, 2011. The law, signed by Gov. Pat Quinn Jan. 31, 2011, allows “A party to a civil union is entitled to the same legal obligations, responsibilities, protections, and benefits as are afforded or recognized by the law of Illinois to spouses …”.
Many of the licenses were issued in the first two months of the new law.
From June 1, 2011 to April 30, 2012 a total of 142 were issued in Kane County; 48 in June 2011 and 30 in July 2011, equaling 78 or 55 percent.
DuPage County issued 264 licenses through May 30, 2012; 83 in June and 28 in July of last year equaling 111 or 42 percent.
In Cook County, 2,504 licenses were issued through May 31, 2012; 1,096 or nearly 44 percent in the first two months after the law went into effect.
Licenses Issued in First Year of Civil Unions Law
*This total does not include numbers for May 2012 for all counties that issued licenses.
Defense of Marriage Act
In 1996, President Bill Clinton signed DOMA, which banned federal recognition of same-sex marriage and defining marriage as “a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.”
That law was found unconstitutional May 30.
In a unanimous decision, the three-judge panel of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston said DOMA deprives gay couples of the rights and privileges granted to heterosexual couples.
An appeal seems inevitable, meaning the case would go to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Under the law, no state is required to recognize a same-sex marriage performed in another state. However, the appeals court ruling did not address that aspect of DOMA. It also didn’t address whether gay couples have a constitutional right to marry, according to .
The gay rights group Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union filed May 30 twin freedom-to-marry suits in Illinois state court.
With uncertainty about a gay marriage bill moving through Springfield any time soon — the House bill introduced this year was pulled midway through the session — advocates are opening up a new path, WGN Radio reported.
The Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois each filed a lawsuit against the clerk of Cook County, claiming that not issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples violates the equal protection and due process clauses of the Illinois Constitution.
Activists say they will continue to press lawmakers to legalize same-sex marriage. But these lawsuits mean that the judicial system, and possibly the Illinois Supreme Court, will play a role as well.
"We always thought this was something that had to happen," said ACLU attorney John Knight, as quoted by WGN Radio. "We think it's time to try in the courts, and we're optimistic about our chances."
Cook County Clerk David Orr's office issued a statement from the clerk, who was out of the country at the time: "The time is long past due for the state of Illinois to allow county clerks to issue marriage license to couples who want to make their commitment. I hope these lawsuits are the last hurdle to achieving equal marriage rights for all."
Peter Breen, executive director and legal counsel of the Chicago-based Thomas More Society, which opposes gay marriage, said he would expect the state's attorney and the attorney general's office to "defend the constitutionality of state laws."
"We would expect them to forcefully defend the state's marriage law," Breen said. "We will provide whatever assistance we can to help them in that defense."
Robert Gilligan, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois, said the lawsuits show that the gay rights advocates who fought for civil unions never intended to be content with that law.
Because the governor has voiced his support for same-sex marriage, it's unclear whether the state will fight the lawsuit.
CNN has complied a historical timeline listing of the progress of the fight for same-sex marriage and civil unions. Same-sex marriage is legal in the District of Columbia and six states: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, Iowa, New Hampshire and New York. In addition to Illinois, civil unions are legal in New Jersey, Delaware, Rhode Island and Hawaii.
Many states have constitutional language defining marriage as heterosexual and statutes banning same-sex marriage.
Argentina, Brazil, Canada, and Western European countries also have laws allowing same-sex marriage and domestic partnerships.
The timeline starts with the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act.