Marriage equality in Illinois: The lead-up to June 1

Thu. May 29, 2014 12:25 PM by Matt Simonette

nov. 2013: gov. pat quinn signs marriage equality bill

photo credit // rick aguilar
Chicago, IL - While marriage equality has been the law of the land in Illinois for several months now, thanks to a federal court case that said the state's marriage ban was unconstitutional, June 1 is the first day that SB10, the Religious Freedom and Marriage Equality Act, takes effect.

Getting the ball rolling

Though Gov. Pat Quinn signed the marriage bill on Nov. 20 of last year, his signature was hardly the end of the work activists did in order to bring full marriage equality to the state.

Just weeks after Quinn's signing ceremony at the UIC Forum, Judge Sharon Coleman of the Northern District of Illinois ruled that activist Vernita Gray, in light of a serious illness, could marry her partner, Pat Ewert, ahead of the June 1 start date. The couple was married by Judge Patricia Logue in their Edgewater home Nov. 27.

A few weeks later, on Dec. 16, Coleman issued an order directing that couples wherein a partner had health concerns could certify their conditions with the Cook County Clerk's Office and expedite their marriage. By that time, two other couples, Elvie Jordan and Challis Gibbs and Ronald Dorfman and Ken Ilio, had already married, shortly after Coleman orally delivered the ruling the previous week.

Dorfman and Gibbs both passed away in February. Gray succumbed to her illness in March.

Early marriage for all

In February, Coleman issued one more marriage-related ruling, one that stated Illinois's ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional.Illinois LGBT couples would not have to wait until June to marry.

Cook County Clerk David Orr's office was ready for the first couples just a few hours later. He and his office were defendants in the lawsuit that settled the matter, but they did not defend themselves against the suit. The first couple to get their license in the wake of the ruling were Chicagoans Charles Gurion and David Wilk, who saw news about the ruling and hurried downtown.

The first female couple to get their license, according to Windy City Times, were Sara and Carolyn Kujawa. They had their 15-month-old son with them, and had rushed to the County Clerk's office after hearing news of the ruling on the radio.

"We're a family, and we shouldn't have to call it something different," Sara said.

There were a few catches to Coleman's ruling. The first was that it applied only to Cook County—since the Cook County Clerk's Office was the defendant in the lawsuit, Orr and his staff were the only ones the court could compel to act. Other counties would have to decide for themselves when to allow same-sex couples to get licenses.

Another snag came for couples hoping to take advantage of a feature of SB10 that allowed them to "upgrade" their civil unions without a ceremony or a license fee. Their marriage licenses were to be backdated to the date of their civil union. But since Coleman's ruling did not address those couples, they would have to wait until SB10 officially took effect in order to utilize the upgrade.

That didn't stop Chicagoans Jeff Woods and Tom Wray, who'd had their civil union performed at IML. "We've got so many anniversaries, it didn't matter to us," Woods told Windy City Times. "There's no legal reason for us to need it backdated."

Growing pains

By April, about 1,000 same-sex couples had gotten their licenses in Cook County. Over the course of the winter and spring, other counties began issuing licenses as well. According to Equality Illinois, as of May, Cass, Champaign, Clinton, Cook, DeKalb, Greene, Grundy, Hardin, Jackson, Macon, McLean, Ogle, Perry, St. Clair, Wabash, and Woodford were all issuing licenses to same-sex couples.

Some county clerks were initially reluctant to offer licenses ahead of June 1, for fear that the marriages' legal status might be challenged in divorce or probate cases. Attorney General Lisa Madigan, at the request of Macon County Clerk Stephen Bean, weighed in on the matter in March, saying that her office would likely intervene on behalf of any plaintiffs who might sue because they were denied access to a marriage license. Bean's office did begin issuing licenses soon after.

The state readies for marriage

June 1 falls on a Sunday. Most county clerk's offices, including Cook County's, will be closed, so many couples likely cannot actually marry before June 3, given the state's 24-hour waiting period after obtaining a license. Equality Illinois reported that Champaign, Christian, Crawford and Montgomery County clerks will however be open on Sunday. All other counties in the state must be ready to issue licenses on June 2. Furthermore, all 102 counties in the state must be able to issue certificates to upgrade civil unions as well.

A number of events are planned throughout Chicago to commemorate the effective date, among them a blessing ceremony at Kathy Osterman Beach and a "Big Queer Latina/o Wedding" sponsored by United Latino Pride Organization and Lambda Legal, both on June 1, and a number of complimentary wedding ceremonies to be performed at Museum of Contemporary Art on June 2.

Equality Illinois offers downloadable guides for couples seeking information about getting married in Illinois. Those can be accessed at

Related: Cook County issues 1,600 same-sex marriage licenses in 3 months

Timeline: Illinois gets marriage equality: A look back at 2013