By Jessica Baum, Intern

“This is a human story,” said Ed Yohnka, Director of Communications and Public Policy for the ACLU of Illinois, at a luncheon held on June 20 to discuss the recently filed marriage suit. “This is about people who are seeking the freedom to marry. This is about couples who simply want nothing more than to have their love and commitment recognized by the affirmation of being married.”

The ACLU conference room was filled with as many as 40 people who came to have lunch and talk about Lazaro and Matos v. Orr, the ACLU of Illinois’ case seeking to lift the ban in Illinois law that denies same-sex couples the freedom to marry. A panel consisting attorneys of John Knight and Karen Sheley, and three of the 18 plaintiffs, Corynne Romine, Michelle Mascaro, and Liz Matos, discussed the case.

“I’ve been with my partner, Tanya, for about 15 years now,” said Matos. “Our bond between each other is unbreakable. And I just wish that I could call her my wife one day rather than have to explain myself to people about my relationship.”

The state of Illinois adopted Civil Unions for same-sex couples last year. Although that was an improvement, Sheley said it is not enough, and that civil unions deny Illinoisans basic benefits that married couples receive, as well as making them second class citizens. However, the ACLU believes progress has been made in the right direction.

“We’ve seen huge progress in the last few years, and certainly a great deal of progress in the last couple of years,” said Knight. “Our goal at the ACLU is to bring some level of relationship protection, and obviously the end result has got to marriage, throughout the country.”

Recently, both the Illinois Attorney General and the State Attorney said they agreed with the ACLU of Illinois’ suit that the ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. Everyone on the panel was excited about this.

“I’m hopeful that we are on the right path,” said Romine. “We still have a lot of work to do.”

Knight does not expect this fight to end soon, and is prepared for the appeal process after the decision is issued from the circuit court. “We don’t really expect to have a final decision until the Illinois Supreme Court decides this issue,” he said.

And as members of the audience asked questions to the panel for clarification about the case and to share personal stories, the conversation kept coming back to the road ahead.
“This is a long term strategy to change hearts and minds,” said Colleen Connell, Executive Director of the ACLU of Illinois. “It’s a really, really important battle. I think this is one of the biggest battles of our lifetime.”