CHICAGO — Jubilant same-sex couples began lining up for marriage licenses in Chicago on Friday after a federal judge ruled there was no reason for residents of Illinois' largest county to wait until the state's new gay marriage law takes effect, a decision some hope will prompt county clerks statewide to begin issuing the documents.
U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman ruled that Illinois' original ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. That means that even though a state law legalizing same-sex marriage takes effect on June 1, there is nothing to stop couples from marrying now.
The ruling applies only to Cook County, where Chicago is located, because the suit was filed against County Clerk David Orr.
Orr, who supports gay marriage, said it was a "historical day," and performed the first wedding ceremony after the ruling — for one of the couples that sued him. Mercedes Santos and Theresa Volpe of Chicago were granted a waiver from the traditional 24-hour waiting period.
"I think this has really put the ... stamp of approval on the fact that no matter your family makeup, your family is important and marriage is important; equality is important," said Volpe. "Our children now can look at their family and know they're as equal as their cousins' families and their friends' (families)."
Orr said any Illinois couple can get a marriage license in Cook County as long as the wedding takes place there.
The ruling could be a signal to clerks in other counties that they also should start issuing licenses, said Christopher Clark, an attorney at Lambda Legal in Chicago, which filed the lawsuit. But some clerks said they'll seek legal advice first.
"We want to be absolutely certain that before we move forward ... that anything we do is unquestionably valid," said Gordy Hulten, clerk in central Illinois' Champaign County.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, who signed the marriage law in November, issued a statement saying that "every county across the state should enjoy the same freedom without having to wait until June."
But David Smith, executive director of the conservative Illinois Family Institute, said the judge circumvented the political process unnecessarily.
"The issue was already ... solved by the legislature," Smith said, though he added that he didn't agree with the legislators' decision.
Officials with the Catholic Conference of Illinois and the Thomas More Society — a Chicago public interest law firm that helped defend the state's same-sex marriage ban in a 2012 state lawsuit — would not comment on Friday.
Coleman wrote that there was "no reason to delay further when no opposition has been presented to this Court and committed gay and lesbian couples have already suffered from the denial of their fundamental right to marry." Coleman already ruled in December that same-sex couples could marry immediately if one or both partners had a life-threatening illness. Several same-sex couples married after that ruling.
Advocates for same-sex marriage immediately celebrated Friday's ruling, and Orr said his office would be open two hours later on Friday, until 7 p.m., to accommodate any couples who wanted to get their marriage licenses after work.
When Charlie Gurion learned of the ruling via Facebook, he immediately called his fiance, David Wilk, and asked him to take a break from work to get a license. They arrived about an hour later and were first in line.
Wilk, 31, broke into tears after they received their license, which is good for 60 days.
"I feel like my love for him is stronger; I wasn't expecting to feel that rush of emotion," Wilk said of Gurion, 25. "It just feels different now. I want to go home and ... tell everybody what we just did. It feels right."
The couple, who were engaged in Paris last year, will get married Saturday by a judge but will go ahead with a big celebration they've been planning for their original wedding date, Sept. 19.
Sara Kujawa was sitting in a car waiting for her partner, Carolyn Kujawa, to come out of a bank when she heard about the ruling. They headed straight to the clerk's office and were the second couple to get a license.
They have a young son and are already joined in a civil union, but "it's important to have the same thing as everyone else," Sara Kujawa said.
Same-sex marriage legislation was fought hard by some of Illinois' most well-recognized religious figures, including Cardinal Francis George of the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Rev. James Meeks, a former state senator who runs a politically influential megachurch in Chicago.
Although Illinois once appeared poised to become the first Midwestern state to approve gay marriage in the Legislature, Minnesota did it sooner and started allowing same-sex weddings over the summer. Iowa also allows gay marriages because of a court ruling, not a legislative vote.
Illinois' first same-sex couple to wed — Vernita Gray and her partner of five years, Patricia Ewert — did so in late November after an expedited marriage license was granted because Gray was terminally ill with cancer.
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