Gay and lesbian civil rights activists across Illinois applauded today’s landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, but the implications for same-sex couples here remain unclear.
Because Illinois only allows civil unions and doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage, Camilla Taylor, an attorney with Lambda Legal in Chicago, said most gay and lesbian couples in the state are unlikely to see their status change in the eyes of the federal government.
“In the vast majority of circumstances, Illinois couples in civil unions are uncertain, if not unlikely, to get any of these benefits,” she said.
Taylor said the Obama administration will have to provide guidance on how the government will treat same-sex couples who were legally married in another state and now live in Illinois. It’s possible, she said, that those couples will now have federal recognition.
“We should expect some federal guidance from the IRS, for example, on how same-sex couples will be treated in states like Illinois if they got married in a state like Iowa, where they can legally marry,” Taylor said.
Peter Breen, an attorney with the Thomas More Society, a Chicago-based law group that opposes same-sex marriage, said he found today’s ruling on DOMA “disappointing.”
“The Supreme court sidestepped the main dispute that has been gripping the country about the main purpose and nature of marriage,” Breen said. “It threw it back into the state legislatures, giving full power to state legislators to grant or deny federal rights or benefits to same-sex couples.”
Gay and lesbian activists seized on the DOMA ruling, and the Supreme Court’s dismissal of California’s Proposition 8 case — which effectively allowed same-sex marriages to resume in that state — by calling on Illinois legislators to do away with the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.
“This is one of the most important days in the history of our movement for LGBT civil rights,” Rick Garcia, policy director for The Civil Rights Agenda, said in a statement. “Although we are thrilled with the ruling, we are painfully cognizant that in Illinois same-gender couples still cannot be married and we must change that immediately. The Illinois House of Representatives must act as soon as possible.”
Gov. Pat Quinn joined the chorus of groups calling for today’s decision to move Illinois lawmakers to legalize same-sex marriage.
“Today the Supreme Court took a historic step by providing equal access to more than 1,100 federal rights and benefits for same-sex couples,” Quinn said in a statement. “Members of the Illinois House now have more than 1,100 new reasons to make marriage equality the law in Illinois.
Breen said he believes opponents of same-sex marriage will also rally around today’s decisions.
“What the decision does is reemphasize the need to talk about the nature and purpose of marriage in every state across the country, whether in Illinois or elsewhere,” he said. “That really is the main point of debate in the state legislature. If anything, for folks on my side of this debate, we have to continue to make the case clearly and explore the great benefit of having both a mom and a dad and really talk about why we have marriage.”