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DeKalb County issues first gay marriage license

Published: Thursday, March 13, 2014 10:49 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, March 14, 2014 11:57 a.m. CDT
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Jaeyln Paulsen (left), of Sycamore, and Darla Cook, of DeKalb, share a moment after receiving their marriage license while sitting in the DeKalb County Courthouse Thursday morning. The pair plan to marry on Monday, the anniversary of their civil union. Danielle Guerra - dguerra@shawmedia.com

DeKALB – Darla Cook and Jaelyn Paulsen didn’t want to let another St. Patrick’s Day pass before they got married.

In addition to being a day when people wear Paulsen’s favorite color, green, Monday also is the four-year anniversary of their commitment ceremony. So rather than wait for the Illinois law legalizing same-sex marriage to take effect June 1, they filed suit against DeKalb County Clerk and Recorder Doug Johnson.

On Thursday, after Johnson declined to mount a defense, they won, and Johnson’s office granted them a marriage license. The couple is planning a low-key ceremony Monday at a Sycamore area church with a pastor officiating.

“In the last year, it’s been good to have the courts and the legislature stepping in and saying this is not right,” Paulsen said. “We need to stop discriminating against these couples just because they’re different than what we’re used to.”

Judge Ron Matekaitis accepted an agreed order from Johnson, DeKalb County State’s Attorney Richard Schmack, and Cook and Paulsen. The couple wrote their own petition challenging Johnson, who had said he would wait to issue same-sex marriage licenses unless a court ordered otherwise.

The move means any same-sex couple in DeKalb County can now be granted a marriage license.

After Cook and Paulsen filed their lawsuit Tuesday, Johnson said he told Schmack and Assistant State’s Attorney Stephanie Klein not to fight it.

“I said: ‘Let’s get this done so we can move on and go forward,’ “ Johnson said. “I wanted to make sure this applied to all same-sex marriages, not just theirs, so we can move forward.”

A proposal legalizing same-sex marriage was approved by legislators in November, but it was not effective until June 1. State law says any bill passed after May 1 requires a three-fifths vote by the General Assembly to take effect earlier.

After a federal judge issued a ruling that found Cook County’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional and ordered that county to begin issuing licenses right away, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan wrote a letter March 4 encouraging county clerks across Illinois to start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples immediately.

Schmack told Johnson on Feb. 28 that refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples opened him up to a lawsuit he could not win because the state’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional based on the equal protection clause.

Cook and Paulsen had asked for a marriage license but were denied because the state law had not yet gone into effect.

The couple hired local attorney Clay Campbell to represent them after they filed their case. Campbell, who worked for free, said he was prepared to argue the case on their behalf Thursday morning, but said he was pleased that all parties could reach an agreement instead.

“I personally congratulated Mr. Schmack,” said Campbell, a former DeKalb County state’s attorney who lost his bid for re-election to Schmack in November 2012. “I told him I thought this was the right thing to do, and I was glad we could all come together for this moment.”

Johnson said Cook and Paulsen are the only same-sex couple that has sought a marriage license so far in DeKalb County. They were the first of 61 couples to obtain a civil union license in the county since they became available in 2011.

Several counties have decided to start issuing the licenses now in the week since Madigan’s letter, but other clerks around the state are waiting with concerns about the legality of issuing licenses before the law’s effective date June 1.

Among Chicago’s collar counties, clerks in DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry, Will and Winnebago counties have said they will wait until June 1 to issue same-sex marriage licenses.

Campbell applauded the couple’s motivation to file the motion on their own. Officials overlooked defects in the pleading in order to speed the process of legalization, he said.

The couple both wore green sweaters Thursday, Paulsen’s favorite color, and are eager to get married on St. Patrick’s Day.

“It’s an easy day to remember,” Paulsen said, “and of course, it’s associated with green.”

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