May 30, 2012 10:00 am

Gay and lesbian couples seek freedom to marry in Illinois

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CHICAGO — Seeking recognition for their shared love and commitment and protection for their families and loved ones, nine (9) couples from Evanston to Marion filed a lawsuit today to challenge the constitutionality of an Illinois law that denies gay and lesbian couples the freedom to marry. Illinois’ current law excludes these couples from the recognition and protections that come with the universally recognized relationship status of marriage and limits them instead to a separate civil union status. Marriage would best recognize and secure the future of these couples’ families, while civil unions perpetuate the myth that their committed relationships are undeserving of the respect associated with marriage.

Today’s lawsuit comes one year after Illinois implemented civil unions for same-sex couples and just two weeks after President Barack Obama from Illinois endorsed the freedom to marry for same-sex couples. The couples in today’s lawsuit are represented by lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Illinois. In a separate case filed today, Lambda Legal is representing 16 same-sex couples seeking the freedom to marry. The coordinated marriage cases between the ACLU and Lambda Legal signal the organizations’ shared commitment to ensure that the government treats all families fairly.

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Read the complaint
(PDF)
Meet the plaintiffs:

The lead plaintiffs in the ACLU case are Tanya Lazaro and Elizabeth “Liz” Matos of Chicago’s Northwest Side. Ms. Lazaro is a Chicago Police Department Detective and Ms. Matos works as a system analyst for a trading firm in downtown Chicago. Tanya and Liz have a two-year-old girl, Jaiden, and just recently had a second girl, Sophia. After Illinois adopted civil unions, they rejected the idea of getting a civil union.

“Our relationship is not about some legal benefits and protections, but about love for one another,” said Lazaro. “We love each other; we are committed to one another. Anything short of marriage does not recognize that love and commitment.”

“It is remarkable that Tanya risks her life each day to go out into the City of Chicago and keep people safe, but the law does not recognize fully the family that we have built together,” said Matos.

A number of the couples in the shared Illinois Marriage Cases sought a civil union after they became available in 2011, although some chose to wait for marriage. In the complaint, these couples describe how it feels to be relegated to a legal status that sends the message that the state regards their relationships as inferior. Couples in civil unions also report multiple ways in which they are reminded that many people do not understand civil unions, nor afford civil unions the same respect as marriage. All the plaintiffs contend that only the freedom to marry will remove the stigma and other problems associated with civil unions.

The other plaintiffs in the case include:

  • Lynn Sprout and Katherine “Kathie” Spegal, of Champaign, have grandchildren ranging from ages to 22-years-old to 6-years-old, with a new grandchild on the way;
  • Ross “Randy” and Robert “Bob” Carey-Walden, from Springfield, have been together for seven (7) years, meeting after Randy lost his previous partner to cancer and was denied access to his partner’s hospital room and almost missed the chance to be with him at his death;
  • Michelle Mascaro and Corynne Romine, of suburban Oak Park, who have been together more than twenty (20) years and adopted three children they are raising;
  • Tim Kee and Rick Wade, a couple from downstate Marion, who have spent their entire lives in the Marion area and been together as a committed couple for more than fifteen (15) years, live in the home passed on to Rick by his grandmother and attend the church where Tim was baptized;
  • Carlos Briones and Richard Rykhus, of Evanston, are the fathers of 7-year-old Ty and share a passion for education, with Richard serving on the Board of Education for the local elementary school board;
  • Suzanna “Suzie” Hutton and Danielle Cook, of Bloomington, are both educators who, when they told their colleagues about their civil unions, had to make a joke about their relationship being “civilized” to address their colleagues’ discomfort with an announcement that highlighted the inadequacy of their civil union;
  • Kirsten and Tanya Lyonsford of Aurora met at work when they played a game of “Diversity Bingo” and found that they both identified as gay/lesbian — they are together 13 years later and are parenting two young children; and
  • Edwin “Ed” Hamilton and Gary Magruder, of Plainfield, who have been together as a couple for more than 48 years and are both retired educators.

Six (6) states and the District of Columbia now allow same-sex couples to marry.

“What defines a marriage is love and commitment, our hopes and dreams for a life with the person we most love in all the world,” said John Knight, director of the ACLU of Illinois’ LGBT Project. “Creating civil unions – a separate, novel and poorly understood status for gay and lesbian couples – does not honor the devotion of our families, nor fully protect them, but instead sends a powerful message that our families are inadequate and undeserving. It is time for Illinois to join the growing list of states that provide same-sex couples with the dignity and respect that can only come through marriage.”

The ACLU and the ACLU of Illinois are assisted in the lawsuit by the Chicago office of Mayer Brown.

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