A federal court ordered the Cook County Clerk’s office to immediately issue marriage licenses to all Illinois same-sex couples who, because of a life-threatening illness, cannot wait until next summer to get married. The order comes after three Illinois couples were granted emergency marriage license applications because one of the partners has a terminal illness. Starting December 16, couples may marry before June 1, 2014, if they provide a doctor’s declaration stating that one or both of them has a life-threatening illness.
The order provides a streamlined process for couples in similarly urgent medical circumstances, allowing a physician to evaluate a person’s illness to determine if an emergency marriage license is needed and appropriate. The order allows couples to get the protections and responsibilities of marriage without having to go through a legal and possibly public process during a time when privacy and calm is of utmost importance.
“When you have a terminal illness, every day is significant. Even though we know the freedom to marry is coming to Illinois, the default implementation date of the new law is too far away for these couples,” said Camilla Taylor, Marriage Project Director for Lambda Legal. “While no one should be told that they cannot marry for a period of months, for couples who are dealing with a life-threatening medical condition, the delay in implementing Illinois’ marriage law could turn out to be an absolute bar to being married at all. We thank the Court and the clerk’s office for their swift response to ensure that Illinois couples who are struggling with the challenges of a life-threatening illness will have a chance to be married.”
Elvie Jordan and Challis Gibbs, and Ronald Dorfman and Ken Ilio were granted marriage license applications after Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Illinois filed suit on behalf of four same-sex couples and then asked for emergency marriage licenses for these two couples and for all other couples facing terminal illness. Dorfman has been diagnosed with a life-threatening heart condition, and Ms. Gibbs has metastatic cancer and may not be able to wait several months until the default enactment date of the marriage law to get married.
“Judge Coleman’s order creates a clear, understandable process for the many couples across Illinois who are facing serious medical conditions – conditions that may result in their never been able to be married,” said John Knight, LGBT and AIDS Project Director for the ACLU of Illinois. “The freedom to marry is important for all same-sex couples but becomes extremely important for couples facing serious health conditions. For them, the personal and emotional benefits of marriage, as well as the legal protections it provides, are critical.”
The orders were given less than two weeks after Vernita Gray and Patricia Ewert were the first same-sex couple in Illinois to marry; they were issued an emergency marriage license after a lawsuit was filed by Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Illinois. Mr. Dorfman and Mr. Ilio, as well as Ms. Gibbs and Ms. Jordan, contacted the plaintiffs’ attorneys describing similarly urgent medical circumstances. The court also certified a broader class of same-sex couples who shouldn’t have to wait until June 1, 2014 to get married in Illinois.
Same-sex couples who wish to apply for a marriage license before June 1, 2014 because one or both partners has a terminal illness can download the necessary doctor’s form here.
The case is Lee v. Orr, see the complaint here.
Read Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Illinois FAQ on Illinois marriage here.