Last year, Illinois became one of what’s now ten states that offer civil unions or domestic partnerships with the same legal rights as marriage to same-sex couples. But as tends to be the case, many same-sex couples in Illinois find that “the same legal rights as marriage” doesn’t have the same ring to it as “marriage.” Illinois currently has legislation “pending” that would eliminate language currently on the books that expressly outlaws same-sex marriage, but it’s not clear when the future of that legislation will be decided; the legislative session ends this week, and it doesn’t appear that a vote will come before then.
Although as a nation we’re most familiar with legislative approaches to marriage equality, twenty-five couples in Illinois are attempting something different: a lawsuit that claims outlawing marriage equality is inconsistent with Illinois’s state constitution. They’re backed by Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Illinois, and they’re prepared to go all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court. Some of the couples involved in the lawsuit have civil unions, and some don’t, but all want the right to be married. The suit is being led by Tanya Lazaro, a Chicago police detective, and Elizabeth Matos, a systems analyst, who have two children together, and who think their 15-year relationship should be recognized as a marriage.
Technically, the lawsuit names Cook County Clerk David Orr, in recognition of the fact that the nine couples involved in the lawsuit were turned away when applying for marriage licenses in Cook County. Ironically, Orr is actually a supporter of same-sex marriage personally, saying that it’s “past time for Illinois to allow county clerks to issue marriage licenses to couples who want to make a commitment,” and that he hopes “this lawsuit clears the last hurdle to achieving equal marriage rights for all.” Illinois’s governor, Pat Quinn, also supports marriage equality. The curious twist that most of the people involved in this process, even the ones on the “other side,” are all hoping for the same result says something about where the nation stands in regards to gay marriage — it seems like, as polls show, real people are often supportive. It’s the government, and the inertia of our legal system and time-honored “tradition,” that both gay families and allies still have to contend with.
Tanya Lazaro and Elizabeth Matos have been together for 15 years, and their union has only been able to be recognized by their state for one; no matter what legal union they pursue, it still won’t be recognized by the federal government. Right now, neither of their children can tell their friends that their parents are married in the same way that most of their friends’ parents likely are. But the couple’s second daughter is only a few weeks old; maybe, by the time she understands what the institution of marriage is, it’s something her parents will be able to take part in.