As Chicago's Gay Pride weekend kicks off, Progress Illinois talks to some of the 25 couples that recently filed suit, along with Lambda Legal and ACLU, to challenge the constitutionality of an Illinois law that denies gay and lesbian couples the freedom to marry.
As the issue of same sex marriage moves further into the spotlight,
25 couples have filed lawsuits to challenge the constitutionality of an
Illinois law that denies gay and lesbian couples the freedom to marry.
The lawsuits, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Lambda Legal, were filed on May 30, only nine days after President Barack Obama endorsed gay marriage. Several of the couples named in the lawsuit are celebrating their commitment to each other by marching in Chicago's 43rd Annual Pride Parade this weekend.
“Marriage is a common thing that everybody understands and I think it’s very important for our children to be able to say that their parents are married,” said Tanya Lazaro, who, with her partner Elizabeth “Liz” Matos, are lead plaintiffs in the lawsuit. They have two children, Jaiden, 2, and newborn Sophia. “What are our kids going to say at school? That their parents have a ‘civil union?’”
The two separate lawsuits from Lambda Legal and the ACLU were consolidated into one by Judge Moshe Jacobius on Thursday, and have received support from Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez.
Filed against Cook County Clerk David Orr's office, the lawsuits claim that denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples is a violation of the couples’ rights to due process and equal protection under the Illinois Constitution. It has not been announced who will defend the ban on same-sex marriage, a task usually reserved for the offices of Madigan or Alvarez.
“(Civil Unions are) not the same thing as marriage,” said Lazaro, who teaches in Chicago Public Schools and met Matos, a detective in the Chicago Police Department’s Violent Crimes Unit, 15 years ago. Together they share a home on Chicago’s Northwest side and are looking forward to celebrating their first Pride Parade since Jaiden was born.
“To me (civil unions), represent an inequality in our rights and what we should be entitled to,” she said.
Under Illinois law, there are no differences between the rights and benefits granted to married couples and those in civil unions, which were made legal last year. But civil unions do not provide rights and benefits under federal law, unlike opposite-sex marriages. The 1996 Defense of Marriage Act defines a “spouse” as “a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife” and thus must be interpreted that way by federal agencies. Parties to civil unions won’t qualify for things like survivor’s benefits from Social Security and the legal status of a civil union will not be recognized in a state that has not authorized it.
“Designating lesbian or gay couples to a different status sends a strong message that their relationships are not good enough and that their love and commitment is not the same as the love and commitment (of opposite-sex couples),” said John Knight, director of the LGBT Project of the ACLU and lead attorney for the lawsuit.
“That marriage is reserved and continues to be reserved only for different sex couples — it’s an unfair system,” he said. Knight added, that although his focus is on his clients, he is a gay man with a partner he’d one day “love to be able to marry.”
“There’s a stigma that’s attached to excluding people from something that’s universally recognized and respected,” he said.
The lawsuit's filing occurs at the same time as HB 5170, sponsored by State Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), the highest-ranking openly gay elected official in the State of Illinois, has stalled in the Rules Committee. While lawmakers grapple over Medicaid, pension reform and budget issues, the bill has not seen any momentum since March.
“Civil unions do not provide full equality and are not providing families with the same dignity and respect in their communities,” Harris said. “But as I looked around and talked to my colleagues, within the context of everything else in legislation ... it was just something that people were not focused on.”
Along with President Obama’s endorsement, same-sex marriage has seen several key supporters, including Vice-President Joe Biden, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California), former President Jimmy Carter, and former Vice-President Dick Cheney, who’s daughter’s sexual orientation as a lesbian became a source of public attention during his second term with former President George Bush.
Michelle Mascaro and Corynne Romine have been together more than 20 years, with three children ages 14, 12 and 11. They obtained a civil union, with children at their sides, on their 20th anniversary in January. But, Mascaro said drawing up the paperwork and hiring a lawyer to ensure they were protected legally was a “lengthy process” and “not simple.”
“We’ve done everything we possibly could to protect each other,” said Mascaro, who will be marching in the Pride Parade with her entire family. “As soon as we had children, we did all the legal protection things to make each other our legal beneficiaries, but that being said it doesn’t replace the significance of marriage and the way in which a marriage does all those things in one certificate.”
“Basically we want to be able to have the right to marry,” she said.
Check back with Progress Illinois next week for more on this weekend's Pride events.