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Lawsuits Filed To Secure Gay Marriage Rights In Illinois

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UPDATED 05/30/12 1:10 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — Two separate lawsuits were filed Wednesday, attempting to secure marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples in Illinois.

The Lambda Legal gay rights law firm and the American Civil Liberties Union filed separate lawsuits Wednesday, claiming that the failure by the Cook County Clerk to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples violates the Illinois Constitution.

They announced the lawsuits by more than two dozen plaintiffs from Chicago, Bloomington and Marion in a joint news conference at the Westin River North, 320 N. Dearborn St.

“It’s official. We can now announce that we have filed suit against the Clerk of Cook County seeking the freedom to marry in Illinois. It’s just time,” Lambda Legal said in a statement.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Brandis Friedman reports

The lead plaintiffs, Chicago Police Detective Tanya Lazaro and software analyst Liz Matos, believe the civil unions that became legal in Illinois last year are insufficient.

“It sends a powerful message that these loving relationships are inadequate and undeserving,” said John Knight, the ACLU’s Director of LGBT and AIDS projects.

At the news conference Wednesday, the American Civil Liberties introduced the plaintiffs who expressed frustration at not being allowed full marriage rights.

One couple, Richard Rykhus and Carlos Briones, were married in Canada during a visit to Rykhus’ parents’ home in 2005, and call each other husbands.

“The word ‘partner’ never worked for me – it sounds so transactional,” Rykhus saud. “We are not in a business relationship.”

But Rykhus and Briones say they are regularly reminded that their marriage is not recognized in Illinois. For example, when Rykhus had to go to the emergency room, the nurse wrote Briones’ name as “partner” on Rykhus’ wristband, and although in pain, he had to insist that she write “husband.”

Rykhus and Briones have been together 11 years, and are raising a 7-year-old son, Ty’rith.

Another couple, retired educators Ed Hamilton and Gary Magruder, have been together for more than 48 years. Hamilton, 75, and Magruder, 69, were married in Canada in 2004, and want their marriage recognized in Illinois so they can care for each other as they grow older.

Also among the plaintiffs are LaKeesha Harris and Janean Watkins, the first couple to receive a civil union in Illinois.

The county Clerk’s office has maintained for several years that the law prohibits such marriage licenses, but Clerk David Orr issued a statement Tuesday saying he supports the objective of the lawsuit.

Last month, state Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) introduced a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in Illinois, but later pulled the bill, saying the votes were not there.

The Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, H.B. 5170, would have declared that “all laws of this State applicable to marriage apply equally to marriages of same-sex and different-sex couples and their children; parties to a marriage and their children, regardless of whether the marriage is of a same-sex or different-sex couple, have the same benefits, protections, and responsibilities under law.”

Harris is the chairman of the House Human Services Committee, and has the authority to decide when the bill will come to the full House for a vote. He told the Phoenix last month that he would do so “when I think the time is strategically right.”

Currently, the State of Illinois still bans same-sex marriage by statute. But last year, Gov. Pat Quinn signed the bill granting civil unions to same-sex couples.

Earlier this month, Quinn said he was ready to work toward legalizing gay marriage, shortly after President Barack Obama said he favors same-sex marriages.

Full same-sex marriage rights are currently available in New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Iowa, and the District of Columbia. Laws permitting same-sex marriages are also set to take effect later this year in Washington state, and at the beginning of next year in Maryland.

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