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Cook County Issuing Same-Sex Marriage Licenses; First Couple Weds

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CHICAGO (CBS) – Same-sex couples wasted no time getting marriage licenses on Friday, shortly after a federal judge ruled they don’t have to wait until June to tie the knot in Cook County.

“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 wrote in a ruling issued Friday.

Theresa Volpe and Mercedes Santos were the first couple to take advantage of Coleman’s ruling, after a Cook County judge waived the normal 24-hour waiting period for any couple to wed after obtaining a marriage license.

They, along with several other couples, filed a lawsuit in state court in 2012 seeking to overturn the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. State lawmakers approved gay marriages in Illinois before that case reached a conclusion in the court system.

Cook County Clerk David Orr performed the ceremony for Santos and Volpe, who have three children. His office was the defendant in a federal lawsuit seeking to allow same-sex weddings right away, after lawmakers passed legislation forcing gay couples to wait until June 1 to get married. That technicality in the state’s same-sex marriage legislation was due to the timing of the vote.

Orr’s office issued 46 same-sex marriage licenses by 7 p.m. Friday.

Santos and Volpe are not the first same-sex couple to wed in Illinois. Last fall, a lesbian couple — Vernita Gray and Patricia Ewert — filed a lawsuit in federal court, seeking to be allowed to wed right away, because Gray is dying of cancer. U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin granted their request, and the couple married in a private ceremony on Nov. 27, 2013.

Other couples later sued Orr — who issues marriage licenses for Cook County — seeking to allow same-sex marriages immediately for anyone who wants them. Coleman sided with those plaintiffs on Friday, citing Orr’s decision to support the plaintiffs, rather than oppose the lawsuit.

“Since the parties agree that marriage is a fundamental right available to all individuals and should not be denied, the focus in this case shifts from the ‘we can’t wait’ for terminally ill individuals to ‘why should we wait’ for all gay and lesbian couples that want to marry. To paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: the time is always ripe to do right,” Coleman wrote.

Orr’s office released a statement that he will begin “issuing same-sex marriage licenses immediately” in light of the judge’s ruling. Couples must wait a day after getting a marriage license before performing the ceremony.

The clerk’s office’s Bureau of Vital Records in the lower level of the Daley Center will be open an extra two hours Friday — until 7 p.m. — to allow same-sex couples to get marriage licenses after work, if they wish. However, Orr urged gay couples not to hurry to obtain a marriage license unless they plan to have a ceremony within two months. Marriage licenses are valid for 60 days after they are issued.

“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.

Only the clerk’s office at the Daley Center will issue marriage licenses on Friday. Branch offices in the suburbs (Bridgeview, Markham, Maywood, Rolling Meadows, and Skokie) will begin issuing licenses on Monday.

Other counties were not affected by Coleman’s ruling, because the plaintiffs sued only Orr’s office, not other county clerks.

Orr’s office said the normal $60 fee for a marriage license will be waived for same-sex couples who already have a civil union license, and wish to convert their civil union date to a marriage. However, they must wait until June 1 for their marriage, because Coleman’s ruling did not address existing civil unions that might be converted to marriages.

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