Group wants to defend state gay marriage ban

CHICAGO – The conservative Illinois Family Institute and two suburban Chicago churches are seeking a judge’s permission to help defend the state’s ban on gay marriage, saying they should be able to intervene in a lawsuit filed by 25 gay and lesbian couples who want to overturn the 16-year-old law.

Two downstate county clerks received approval this summer to defend the law after Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez and Attorney General Lisa Madigan refused to do so, claiming the ban violates the Illinois Constitution’s equal protection clause. Now the IFI, Arlington Heights-based Church of Christian Liberty and Bensenville-based Grace Gospel Fellowship, say they should be able to intervene, too.

Cook County Circuit Judge Sophia Hall heard arguments Thursday on the IFI’s request. She will not make a decision until she hears arguments involving the churches’ request. That hearing is set for Nov. 7.

Attorneys for the Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom, representing the IFI, said the Illinois group has a valid interest in the case because of its long history of opposing gay marriage and its role in passing the state ban. Alliance attorney Bryan Beauman said allowing the IFI to intervene also would “even the playing field” because there are two groups representing the plaintiffs.

Separate lawsuits filed in May by the American Civil Liberties Union and New York-based Lambda Legal since have been consolidated.

Lambda Legal attorney Camilla Taylor said the IFI had no legal standing to intervene just because it “spent time and money” to promote its views to the public and lawmakers.

The churches want to intervene because they fear that if the law is struck down, they would be vulnerable to antidiscrimination lawsuits if they refused to rent their facilities to gay or lesbian couples, attorney Jason Craddock said after the hearing.

“They would be sitting ducks,” because they rent some facilities to the public but would not have a religious exemption, Craddock said.

Nobody objected in July when Effingham County Clerk Kerry Hirtzel and Tazewell County Clerk Christie Webb were allowed to intervene. They’re represented by the Thomas More Society, a public interest law firm that opposes gay marriage.

Webb said she doesn’t take a position on gay marriage. Instead, she said she wants to ensure there’s a uniform law for all counties so clerks know how to respond if a gay or lesbian couple applies for a marriage license.

The original lawsuits were filed against Cook County Clerk David Orr, a supporter of gay marriage whose office is responsible for issuing marriage licenses in Chicago and the rest of the county. Some of the plaintiffs were from outside Cook County, but all had applied for marriage licenses there and been denied.

Alvarez, the Cook County prosecutor, said it was her job to represent Orr, and they both agreed with the plaintiffs.

Alvarez’s and Madigan’s refusal to defend the ban has raised eyebrows among some legal experts who believe prosecutors are legally bound to defend Illinois law. Others say the prosecutors were within their rights.

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