Illinois clerks get OK to defend gay marriage ban in Cook County lawsuits

July 3, 2012

Two county clerks from downstate Illinois received permission Tuesday to defend the state's gay marriage ban against a lawsuit filed in Cook County by 25 gay and lesbian couples.

Effingham County Clerk Kerry Hirtzel and Tazewell County Clerk Christie Webb were allowed to intervene in the lawsuit after Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez and Attorney General Lisa Madigan refused to defend it, saying the state's 16-year-old ban on gay marriage violates the Illinois constitution.

Neither the plaintiffs nor the prosecutors objected to Hirtzel and Webb's request. The two clerks are represented by the Thomas More Society, a public interest law firm that opposes gay marriage.

Peter Breen, executive director of the firm, said he has filed a motion to have the lawsuit dismissed, and arguments could be presented to a judge in September.

Webb said she is not taking a position on gay marriage but wants to ensure there's a uniform law for all counties so she knows how to respond if a gay or lesbian couple applies for a marriage license.

The American Civil Liberties Union and New York-based Lambda Legal originally filed separate lawsuits against Cook County Clerk David Orr, a supporter of gay marriage whose office is responsible for issuing marriage licenses in Chicago and the rest of the county. The lawsuits recently were consolidated.

The action was taken on behalf of the 25 couples, some of them from outside Cook County, but all of whom had applied for marriage licenses there and been denied.