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Anita Alvarez: Illinois’ gay marriage ban unconstitutional

Chicago Police detective TanyLazaro Liz Matos right filed lawsuit attempting make same-sex marriages legal Illinois. Cook County State’s Attorney AnitAlvarez

Chicago Police detective Tanya Lazaro and Liz Matos, right, filed a lawsuit attempting to make same-sex marriages legal in Illinois. Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez will file a motion contending the ban is unconstitutional. | Richard A. Chapma

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Updated: July 16, 2012 6:28AM

Cook County Clerk David Orr discriminates against gay couples by refusing to grant them marriage licenses, two recent lawsuits contend.

But instead of defending himself, Orr — and his attorney Anita Alvarez — on Thursday said the gay couples that took him to court are right.

“As the defendant I totally agree with the plaintiffs,” said Orr. “. . . We are clearly admitting that people are being discriminated against.”

As Cook County State’s Attorney, Alvarez represents Orr in court. She admitted in legal filings Thursday that Orr, by enforcing a state law prohibiting gay marriage, is violating the equal-protection clause in the state constitution.

Both Democratic leaders hope that their actions can eventually reverse what they say is a discriminatory law.

Orr compared the gay marriage ban to racist laws that kept blacks from entering restaurants and marrying whites. History, he said, will show that fighting the ban is a step in the “right direction.”

“I know there’s passion on this issue. But we’re not talking about marriage in the sense of religion. We’re talking about what the government does, and the government should not be in the business of discriminating,” he said.

The twin lawsuits, filed by the ACLU and Lambda Legal on behalf of gay couples late last month, argue that the state constitution, more than the constitution of any other state, guarantees a right for people of the same gender to get married, despite laws the Illinois Legislature passed in 1996 prohibiting same-sex marriage. State law does, however, allow for civil unions.

Alvarez said that if the courts agree, the ban would be thrown out — and gay marriage would be legal without additional legislation.

Richard Rykhus, a plaintiff in one of the lawsuits, was “thrilled” by Alvarez’s and Orr’s decision to stand in solidarity with gay couples.

“We’re happy to see that they put their comments out there,” said the 44-year-old Evanston resident, who married Carlos Briones in Canada. “This brings us one step closer to” legalized gay marriage.”

The ACLU and Lambda welcomed Alvarez’s move.

“We’re pleased but not surprised,” ACLU spokesman Ed Yohnka said, pointing to Orr’s longtime vocal support for gay marriage. “Today we’re another step closer to the freedom of our clients to marry.”

But Peter Breen, executive director and legal counsel of the Thomas More Society, which supports the ban, said his law firm is preparing a legal paper to “defend the law.”

He said the legal motions filed by Alvarez Thursday were an “end run” around the will of Illinois citizens and the General Assembly, which passed the ban with broad bipartisan support.

He called Alvarez’s response to the lawsuits “an ‘inside job’ from the beginning, a crass political move to force same-sex marriage on all Illinoisans without providing the residents of the other 101 counties an opportunity to be heard.”

The original lawsuits were filed on behalf of 25 couples, including Chicago Police Detective Tanya Lazaro, 36, and her partner Liz Matos, 40, a software analyst.

“A civil union to me didn’t represent that [bond], a marriage represents that,” Lazaro said previously of why they filed the suit.

Contributing: Abdon M. Pallasch

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