Area county clerks taking wait, see approach to issuing same-sex marriage licenses

Posted: Feb. 28, 2014 5:39 pm Updated: Mar. 21, 2014 7:14 pm

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

Two counties in Illinois have begun issuing same-sex marriage licenses within the last week after a ruling by a federal judge said that couples did not have to wait until the state's new gay marriage law takes effect on June 1.

Area county clerks don't plan to follow in the footsteps of their counterparts in Cook and Champaign counties unless they are directed to do so.

"The law is the law and it takes effect June 1," Adams County Clerk and Recorder Georgia Volm said. "I would not attempt to (issue a same-sex marriage license) without a court order or some type of ruling by a judge. We would want to ensure that those who get (the license) will have valid ones.

"If you want to think about (the couples) first, you have to make your follow the guidelines appropriately."

Last week, Cook County became the first county in the state to issue license to same-sex couples. The federal ruling last week stemmed from a lawsuit against Cook County Clerk David Orr and applied only to Cook County, which includes Chicago.

However, U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman also said the state's gay marriage ban is unconstitutional, which legal experts said other counties could use as a reason to issue marriage licenses right away.

Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten said he decided to issue the licenses after consulting with county attorneys. Champaign County, in central Illinois, is one of the state's more populated counties and is home to the University of Illinois.

"If the state statute is unconstitutional in Cook County, it's unconstitutional in Champaign County," Hulten said, adding that he wanted to spare taxpayers the expense of a potential legal challenge.

None of the other three county clerks in the area are planning to do anything before the law's June 1 effective date.

"I'm not planning on anything until June 1," Pike County Clerk Donnie Apps said. "We haven't had a large request for civil unions anyway."

Hancock County Clerk Kerry Asbridge said he wouldn't be surprised if the date for the law to take effect gets moved up as a result of the latest court rulings. He said he wouldn't process any licenses until the law takes hold. Brown County Clerk Judy Ham said she also would not handle any same-sex marriage licenses until the law takes effect.

Advocates celebrated the decision made by Champaign County.

"It is simply time for the other county clerks to follow suit," Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois, said in a statement. " ... Gay and lesbian couples are eager and ready to take the step that not only grants them and their family the legal benefits and rights of marriage but also bestows society's recognition that their love is equal."

More than half a dozen counties in central Illinois -- Sangamon, Logan, Cass, Morgan, Macoupin, Montgomery and Christian -- said they'd comply with the new law as written, the Springfield State Journal-Register reported.

"We're just going to follow the law," Sangamon County Clerk Joe Aiello told the newspaper.

Same-sex marriage legislation was strenuously opposed by some of Illinois' most well-recognized religious figures, including Cardinal Francis George of the Archdiocese of Chicago. The head of the conservative Illinois Family Institute has said that the judge's ruling circumvented the political process unnecessarily.

The Associated Press contributed to this story