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Knight (Associated Press/Photo by M. Spencer Green)

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Marriage | Two prominent gay activist groups sue for same-sex marriage rights in Illinois

Two major pro-homosexual rights groups in Illinois filed lawsuits Wednesday hoping to legalize same-sex marriage in the state. With the state government unlikely to defend its law defining marriage as between one man and one woman, pro-family groups are starting to gear up for a long legal battle.

The two lawsuits-brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois and New York-based Lambda Legal-represent 25 couples who were denied marriage licenses in Cook County. Both suits challenge a state law that defines marriage as between a man and woman, arguing that the Illinois Constitution guarantees the right for same-sex couples to marry under due process and equality clauses.

"It's time for Illinois to recognize the love and commitment of these couples," said John Knight, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Project of the ACLU of Illinois. "We've waited long enough." He added that President Obama's comments as well as Gov. Pat Quinn's backing of same-sex marriage earlier this month set the stage.

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"Going around the will of the people is not the right way to change an institution that has thousands of years of history and is sound in its reasons for existing," said Peter Breen, executive director of the Chicago-based Thomas More Society. He said the lawsuits would not hold up in court under the constitutional arguments.

Currently, the District of Columbia and six states-Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont-have legalized same-sex marriage. Courts decided for gay marriage in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Iowa. A lawsuit, filed by Lambda Legal, challenging an Iowa law that barred same-sex marriage prompted the Iowa Supreme Court to legalize it in 2009.

Illinois made national headlines last year when its civil unions law forced two Christian non-profit organizations to end their adoption programs.

"It's now painfully obvious that the purpose for securing civil unions legislation last year was to gain legal leverage in the left's attempt to overturn the Illinois Defense of Marriage law," said David E. Smith, executive director of the Illinois Family Institute (IFI). He believes the state is unlikely to defend its marriage law and the Democrat-controlled state legislature will not intervene on behalf of families.

Smith added that IFI is working with the Alliance Defense Fund to see whether his group has standing to oppose the lawsuits and to evaluate the legal options.

The situation "is discouraging for a lot of reasons," said Laurie Higgins, a cultural analyst for IFI, not least because the Illinois news media are declining to address key issues. For example, she pointed out, gay rights proponents insist that marriage has nothing to do with gender or having children-but if marriage is just about subjective feelings, why should the government be involved at all? Higgins also asked why limit marriage to just two people? Does government, she wondered, construct the institution of marriage or does government merely acknowledge and regulate what is clearly a universal human institution?

"I hope [the lawsuit] will generate some heat among religious conservatives," Higgins said, adding that church leaders will need to speak out and teach their members to understand the secular arguments. Too many people worry about being labeled as "haters," she said, adding that they don't realize that "the homosexual juggernaut poses the greatest threat to religious freedom today."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Les Sillars
Les Sillars

Les directs the journalism program at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Va., and is the editor of WORLD's Mailbag section.

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