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A Cook County court has begun hearing a case that challenges the constitutionality of the definition of marriage under the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act. Enacted in 1996, the act defines marriage as being between a man and a woman, effectively prohibiting same sex couples from obtaining a marriage license.

Both Cook County Clerk David Orr and State Attorney Lisa Madigan have opted not to defend the law, with Orr providing a public statement in support of marriage equality. However, some supporters of the law see this failure to defend the statute as an attempt to circumvent the state legislature. A group of 11 Illinois politicians have filed a brief arguing in favor of the law. The Effingham and Tazewell County Clerks, represented by the Thomas More Society, have joined the case to defend the law, as have groups such as the Illinois Family Institute.

Currently, same-sex couples can only enter into civil unions, which provide same-sex couples with some of the same rights given to married heterosexual couples, but deny them a number of others. The Effingham County Clerk says that he has given out eight civil union licenses since they became legal in June 2011.

This case coincides with a rise in the number of Illinois citizens in favor of allowing same-sex marriage. According to a Southern Illinois University poll, support for same-sex marriage rights rose 10 percent between 2009 and 2011.

The outcome of the case could certainly redefine how the law treats same-sex couples. At the present, the law makes things more difficult, not only in the area of marriage, but in estate planning and adoption. Same-sex couples need to know the legal nuances in these areas so that they can protect and care for the ones they love.

Source: The Daily Illini, “Court battle over gay marriage in Illinois begins, support up in new poll,” Matt Rice, Oct. 4, 2012