Lawsuits challenge Illinois gay marriage ban

Lawsuits challenge Illinois gay marriage ban

CHICAGO - The Associated Press
Lawsuits challenge Illinois gay marriage ban

In this May 19, 2011 file photo, a state trooper stands by as demonstrators on both sides of the gay marriage issue gather outside the Minnesota House in St. Paul, Minn. AP photo

More than two dozen gay and lesbian couples in Illinois filed lawsuits Wednesday arguing that it's unconstitutional for the state to deny them the right to marry, a move advocates hope will lead to legalized same-sex marriage there.

The two lawsuits backed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois and the New York-based gay advocacy group Lambda Legal challenge a state law that defines marriage as between a man and woman.

Illinois is among 30 U.S. states where voters have approved amendments limiting marriage to unions of one man and one woman.

Legislation to eliminate the law's language that prohibits gay marriage is pending in Illinois, but a vote isn't expected before the legislative session is scheduled to end this week. And although Illinois enacted same-sex civil unions last year, couples in the lawsuits said the limited rights and protections make them feel like second-class citizens.

The lead plaintiffs in the ACLU lawsuit are Chicago police detective Tanya Lazaro and systems analyst Elizabeth Matos. The women, who've been together 15 years and have two children, reject the notion of a civil union.

"It's not the same thing as a marriage. We want our relationship, our love and our commitment we've shown for 15 years to be recognized like everybody else's," Lazaro said. "When you're growing up, you don't dream of civil unions." Currently, the District of Columbia and six states Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont have legalized gay marriage, either because of legislation or the courts.

It's been a year since same-sex civil unions were enacted in Illinois, and polls show public support for same-sex marriage has steadily increased. President Barack Obama said earlier this month that he endorsed gay marriage, and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn stepped up his public support.

"We've waited long enough," said John Knight, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Project of the ACLU of Illinois. "It certainly helps that our president from the great state of Illinois has come forward and been a leader in recognizing freedom of same-sex couples to marry." Civil unions give same-sex couples some, but not all, of the same legal rights and protections as marriage in Illinois, such as the power to decide medical treatment for a partner and to inherit a partner's property. When that law was approved, however, opponents including some religious and conservative groups said it was an unwanted step toward gay marriage.

"The courts shouldn't mandate it. Nobody should mandate homosexual marriage," Colleen Nolen, director of the conservative Concerned Women for America, said late Tuesday.