Ill. marriage law will have court defender
CHICAGO (BP) -- An Illinois judge has granted intervenor status to the Thomas More Society to do what the Cook County state attorney and the Illinois attorney general won't do: defend the state's 1996 Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as being between a man and a woman.
The Thomas More Society filed the request June 29 on behalf of Effingham County clerk Kerry Hirtzel and Tazewell County clerk Christie Webb. They are intervening in the lawsuit that the American Civil Liberties Union and New York-based Lambda Legal filed on behalf of 25 gay and lesbian couples after Cook County officials denied their marriage applications.
Peter Breen, executive director of The Thomas More Society, said Hirtzel, a Republican, and Webb, a Democrat, have an interest in ensuring that the law is applied uniformly across Illinois "because they are the keepers of marriage licenses." Webb said she takes no position on same-sex marriage but wants to know what's legal.
Cook County Judge Sophia Hall gave the society its intervenor status on July 3.
The society has filed a motion to dismiss the case, according to Breen. The two sides will file briefs over the summer and oral arguments will be heard on Sept. 27.
Breen said this first round is likely to be decided on the motion to dismiss. That is, the issue is purely a legal one. With no facts in dispute to be established, a full trial is unlikely. Appeals, he said, are likely.
At issue is whether the Illinois law defining marriage as between one man and one woman violates the state constitution's equal protection clause -- that is, does it unfairly discriminate against certain groups?
One key, Breen said, is whether legislators intended the law to discriminate against a particular group.
"To survive the challenge, the law ... has to have some rational basis," he said, and defense of marriage laws do. For example, society has an interest in upholding marriage as an ideal because there is considerable evidence that heterosexual marriage is the best context for raising children.
Breen added that he is not commenting on whether same-sex couples can do a good job raising children. "The only thing we have to do is show there is a rational basis for the legislators doing what they did," he said. "As long as there is, [the law] should not be struck down."
Les Sillars writes for World News Service, where this story first appeared.