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By Michelle Manchir, Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — Gay couples in Cook County won’t have to wait until June to marry, under a ruling Friday by a federal judge in Chicago that scraps the delayed effective date of Illinois’ same sex marriage law.

“There is no reason to delay further when no opposition has been presented to this Court and committed gay and lesbian couples have already suffered from the denial of their fundamental right to marry,” U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman stated.

Her ruling noted that Cook County Clerk David Orr filed a brief in support of the lawsuit, which argued that couples should not have to wait until the Illinois law went into effect on June 1.

Orr released a statement after the ruling saying he will begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses “immediately.”

“I’m thrilled same-sex couples who want to get married won’t have to wait any longer” Orr said. “We are very excited to celebrate this historic milestone with every loving couple from today onward.”

Orr said he will keep the downtown Bureau of Vital Records, in the lower level of the Daley Center, open an extra two hours Friday night — until 7 p.m. — to accommodate any couples who want to get a license after work.

Only the downtown office will issue same-sex marriage licenses on Friday. All offices will begin issuing licenses on Monday, he said.

Marriage licenses are valid for 60 days. “Don’t rush to get your license if you have a summer wedding planned because you don’t want the license to expire before your big day,” Orr said.

The $60 license fee will be waived for any couple who already has an Illinois civil union license. Couples who wish to convert their prior civil union date to a marriage will have to wait until June 1 because it was not addressed in Coleman’s order, Orr said.

Two women had challenged the effective date of the law in federal court last year.

The women, both in their 60s, were partners for more than five years and entered into a civil union in 2011. One of them had been battling breast cancer for 17 years and had been advised by her doctors that she had little time left to live.

They sued in U.S. District Court, requesting a marriage license immediately. U.S. District Judge Thomas M. Durkin granted the request, citing the special circumstances. The couple wed privately in November.

Judge Coleman later ordered Orr’s office to immediately begin issuing marriage licenses to other couples facing similar circumstances. “This Court can conceive of no reason why the public interest would be disserved by allowing a few couples facing terminal illness to wed a few months earlier than the timeline would currently allow,” she ruled in December.

Her ruling Friday applies to all same sex couples.

Supporters of same sex marriage praised the decision.

“We’re thrilled that Judge Coleman recognized the serious harm to the many Illinois families from continuing to deny them the freedom to marry,” said John Knight, LGBT and AIDS Project Director for the ACLU of Illinois. “The U.S. Constitution guarantees these families the personal and emotional benefits as well as the critical legal protections of marriage now, and we are thankful that the court extended this dignity to couples immediately.”

“The wait is over! We are thrilled that the court recognized the unfairness of forcing same-sex couples to wait for months to marry,” said Christopher Clark, Counsel for Lambda Legal. “Justice has prevailed and full equality is no longer delayed for Illinoisans who wish to marry in Cook County before June 1.”

Catholic Conference of Illinois officials, who opposed the law, declined to comment on the ruling.

Photo: Jose Antonio Navas via Flickr.com

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