Most area clerks waiting before issuing same-sex marriage licenses
CHAMPAIGN — Most county clerks in East Central Illinois do not plan to join Cook and Champaign counties in issuing same-sex marriage licenses before the new state law takes effect in June. But one clerk has asked Illinois' Attorney General to clarify what is becoming an increasingly complex issue.
On Thursday, Macon County Clerk Stephen M. Bean said he faxed to Attorney General Lisa Madigan a letter asking her office "to give the other 101 county clerks in Illinois some guidance over the recent federal court ruling which found the current marriage law unconstitutional."
A week ago, a federal court ruled that there's no reason for Cook County to delay issuing licenses. Within 72 hours of the decision, it had granted 80 of them.
Then, on Wednesday, Clerk Gordy Hulten announced that Champaign would become the second county in the state to issue marriage licenses immediately to gay and lesbian couples.
But of 10 county clerks reached Thursday by The News-Gazette, only Macon's Bean and DeWitt's Dana Smith said they are considering following Hulten's lead. Clerks from eight other counties in the area — Coles, Douglas, Edgar, Ford, Iroquois, Moultrie, Piatt and Vermilion — all indicated they plan to wait until June 1, the date SB 10 was set to take effect statewide.
In Macon County, Bean wants to move forward with issuing licenses, but the state's attorney's office there has advised against it. Michael Baggett, assistant state's attorney in Macon, wrote in his opinion to Bean that in the Cook County case, U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman explicitly held that her finding applied only to that county. "Until a court rules that said restriction is unconstitutional throughout the entire state or in Macon County specifically, the State's Attorney's position cannot change," Baggett wrote.
Bean said he asked the attorney general for clarification, pointing out that a law can't be unconstitutional for only one county in the state.
Most clerks in East Central Illinois have also sought advice from their state's attorneys — and most have also been advised to wait.
In DeWitt, Smith said Thursday she hadn't yet spoken with her county's state's attorney, who is handling a trial. But if he has no legal problem with it, she plans to issue licenses early.
"I will not do it until I discuss it with him," Smith said. "If he has no problem with it, then I have no problem with it."
Vermilion Clerk Lynn Foster said she consulted with State's Attorney Randy Brinegar, who does not believe the county has the authority to change the date, because it's not a "home rule county" like Cook. However, Foster said she wouldn't be surprised if the state removes the date restriction, so her office has started making necessary changes in software and printing new marriage licenses if that happens.
"And I don't have any reason to want to wait," Foster said. "This legislation has passed, so I don't see that there's any reason why we should hold out."
Foster said her office received a few calls Wednesday and Thursday inquiring whether Vermilion would be issuing licenses immediately.
Seven other county clerks contacted by The News-Gazette reported no inquiries from same-sex couples since last week's surprising news out of Cook. A look at how they plan to proceed:
— Douglas County: Clerk Judi Pollock said her office has not been directed by the state's attorney to do anything differently. So far, her office hasn't had any calls about granting licenses sooner than June 1; if that changes, she said she will consult the state's attorney.
— Piatt County: Clerk Colleen Kidd said she's not planning to issue licenses early — and couldn't do so immediately, anyway, because new forms haven't been printed.
— Ford County: Clerk Linda Kellerhals said she's not planning to issue early, because she's going to follow the state law, and her office has received no calls since the Cook County decision.
— Moultrie County: Clerk Georgia England said her state's attorney advised against issuing licenses now. She said her office hasn't received any calls since the decision; if it does, she said she'll take it to the state's attorney for consideration.
— Coles County: Clerk Sue Rennels said her office does not go by Cook County court decisions. "I'm prepared to issue, at any moment, when the state advises and tells us that they are changing the date," she said.
— Iroquois County: Clerk Lisa Fancher said her office doesn't have the necessary paperwork to issue licenses now, so it plans to wait.
— Edgar County: Clerk August Griffin said he plans to abide by the current law as it was passed. Griffin said he consulted with his state's attorney, who concurs with his decision to wait until June 1.