HRC Blog

ACLU and Lambda Legal File Marriage Equality Suits in Illinois

The ACLU and Lambda Legal filed two separate but coordinated suits in Illinois state court today challenging the constitutionality of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act – the state law denying same-sex couples the right to marry in Illinois. Much like the 2009 suit leading to the legalization of same-sex marriage in Iowa, these two Illinois suits challenge these laws based on violations of the state constitution.

The ACLU and Lambda Legal filed these suits on behalf of twenty five same-sex couples living in Illinois. Many of these couples are raising children, and some have entered into civil unions since they were made available in June of 2011. The couples represented in these suits by the ACLU and Lambda Legal, though ranging in age, family composition, education, and employment, are all seeking the same thing from the court: equal access to marriage and the state benefits, protections, and privileges that marriage provides.

If successful, the suits would grant same-sex couples the right to full, legal marriage in Illinois, and provide recognition in the state for marriages by same-sex couples entered into both in Illinois and in other jurisdictions.

The parties base their suits on not one but several legal arguments. They claim that denying same-sex couples access to marriage violates their and their family’s rights to life, liberty and property, as well as their right to privacy guaranteed under Article I, §§ 2 and  6 of the Illinois State Constitution. They also argue that granting access to civil unions to both same-sex and different-sex couples while reserving marriage to only different-sex couples unconstitutionally treats those groups unequally based on their sex and their sexual orientation as protected under Article I, §§ 2 and 18. Finally, the parties assert that these laws violate Article I, § 13 of the Illinois State Constitution, which states that legislators may not create special laws – like laws singling out same-sex couples for marriage restrictions – when general ones can be applied. To succeed, the court would need to only accept only one of these arguments.

The complaints filed in both suits focus not only on the legal arguments for overturning Illinois same-sex marriage laws, but on the relationships and families of the parties involved. They detail the effect denying access to marriage has had on these couples, including how civil unions have provided inadequate protections when their families truly needed them. These stories allow the court to see not only the legal arguments behind the suits but connect names and life experiences to the harm laws denying same-sex couples the freedom to marry do cause.

HRC will continue to work in coalition with advocates in the state, such as Equality Illinois, to advance marriage equality legislation in the state House and Senate. Both the lawsuits and legislation promote critical conversations on the impact of discriminatory laws on same-sex couples and their families. Pursuing two strategies increases the odds of success in Illinois.

HRC McCleary Law Fellow Michael Porcello contributed to this post.

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