Judge rejects motion to halt Illinois marriage equality lawsuit; case to move forward

Photo: Victor Powell

Photo: Victor Powell.

A judicial route towards legalizing same-sex marriage in Illinois pushed forward Wednesday as a Cook County Circuit Court judge rejected an attempt by a conservative group to halt proceedings until a federal ruling is made by the United States Supreme Court on two cases dealing with the issue.

United States v. Windsor tackles the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, while Hollingsworth v. Perry addresses California’s Proposition 8.

Judge Sophia Hall entertained the motion by Chicago-based The Thomas More Society for a stay regarding a lawsuit filed by 25 local gay and lesbian couples that were refused marriage licenses by the Cook County Clerk.

Attorneys from the ACLU of Illinois and Lambda Legal represent the plaintiffs, who reside throughout the state.

“Are we going to put scarce and valuable judicial resources to waste going through proceedings that may have to be revisited based on what the U.S. Supreme Court would decide?” asked Thomas More Society president and chief counsel Thomas Brejcha. “Or do we wait until the end of this term — which will be here in no time, the end of June at the latest — to find out what the justices have to say from on high?”

Characterizing the plaintiff’s opinions as mere carbon copies of what will be argued at the Supreme Court, Brejcha insisted, “It’s common sense to just wait four months.”

Attorneys for the plaintiffs responded with two main points: that Cook County Circuit Court makes decisions based on current law, not law that might be decided in the future, and that decisions on the two High Court cases would have no bearing on this local lawsuit.

“Entirely different statutes are being challenged and whatever ruling comes about, those decisions will not be binding in this court,” the attorney for ACLU of Illinois said.

He continued that the only ruling that could stop this case would be a broad ranging decision by the High Court that would affect all 50 states.

Hall dismissed the motion for a stay then ordered briefing on a separate motion for dismissal.

A response by plaintiffs to the motion to dismiss is due to Hall by March 29. The five county clerks The Thomas More Society is representing are allowed until May 16 to craft replies in support of that same motion.

Arguments between the attorneys became heated when plaintiffs’ counsel made an unusual request.

They proposed that Hall would hear oral arguments for its own motion for a summary judgment, at the same time as oral arguments for dismissal. They contend that in doing so, the court would be better informed about certain facts presented by The Thomas More Society that they would like to counter.

“With respect, Your Honor, that’s outrageous … this is bizarre,” Brejcha said in response.

He argued the proposal would be unusual procedure.

“You can file your motion for summary judgment,” Hall said. “I’m certainly not going to entertain it at the same time I entertain a motion to dismiss.”

A status hearing is scheduled in Hall’s courtroom on June 6.

Gerald Farinas

About Gerald Farinas

An Edgewater Beach resident, Gerry is managing editor and interim editor-in-chief of Chicago Phoenix. He is concurrently an Evanston-based social services professional and media consultant. For more info: www.geraldfarinas.com.