CHICAGO (CBS) — A Cook County judge on Thursday agreed to combine two lawsuit seeking to overturn the ban on gay marriage in Illinois.

The Chicago Tribune reports Chancery Division Presiding Judge Moshe Jacobius agreed to combine the separate lawsuits filed by Lambda Legal and by the American Civil Liberties Union at a hearing Thursday.

The lawsuits were filed by more than two dozen plaintiffs from Chicago, Bloomington and Marion last month. The couples say they have been together for nine years, 29 years, almost 50 years. But they say their relationships have never been treated as legitimate.

A 1996 state law allows marriage licenses to be issued only to opposite-sex couples, but the plaintiffs in the lawsuit claim that law violates the equal protection clause of the Illinois Constitution.

The lawsuit names Cook County Clerk David Orr as a defendant, but neither Orr nor county State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez will be defending it.

“As the defendant, I totally agree with the plaintiffs that the existing law in Illinois, I believe, discriminates,” Orr said last week. “We are clearly admitting that people are being discriminated against in their desire to … get a marriage license. They can’t. Instead, they get a civil union if they so choose. So, I don’t think it’s particularly unusual, and the best part of our history is where we gradually overcome discriminatory laws, and that’s what I’m hoping to do here.”

Alvarez, who represents the county in legal matters, is backing Orr.

“We do believe that the equal protection clause of the Illinois Constitution protects everyone equally, and the Illinois statues that deny the issuance of marriage licenses for same-sex couples violate the Illinois Constitution,” she said.

Alvarez said she is well within her rights as a state’s attorney to decline to defend the allegations in the lawsuit. She thinks their move is justified.

“We are allowed to do that, because as the lawyer – and looking at this, legally, and looking at the statutes, the way they are written – it’s clear to us, it’s in our legal opinion, that those statues violate the equal protection clause of the Illinois Constitution.”

The Thomas More Society — a self-described public interest group that opposes gay marriage – said last week that the group planned to file papers to intervene in the case, seeking to force Orr to enforce existing state law.

Now, the society is filing a motion to have its attorneys defend the state’s current laws themselves, the Tribune reported.