CHICAGO | County clerks around Illinois say they won't start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples immediately as Attorney General Lisa Madigan said this week they have the right to do.
Many worry that doing so before the new law takes effect in June could put their offices at risk of lawsuits and perhaps hurt the couples themselves. In interviews with about a dozen clerks, only one — Macon County Clerk Stephen Bean — said he would begin as soon as he has proper software installed for the forms that need to be filled out. Bean said the first marriage license might be issued as early as Friday.
As for the others, they said they would not follow the lead of Cook and Champaign counties, which have already started issuing licenses, or McLean County, which will start March 24.
Instead, they say they are likely to wait until June 1, when the state's new same-sex marriage law takes effect. And some say they will wait for an opinion by their state's attorneys before they make a final decision.
"The law did not change and if they (state lawmakers) want these marriages to be effective earlier than June 1, someone needs to change it legislatively," said Katherine Schultz, the clerk in McHenry County in northern Illinois. "The law is very clear, very definite."
Clerks said possible lawsuits might be costly and that if any legal challenge proved to be successful, it could put couples at risk of losing insurance and other legal benefits that come with marriage.
"The law says what the law says, and what if down the road they lose the benefits they are trying to reap?" Georgia Volm, the clerk of Adams County in western Illinois asked. "I want to protect them (same-sex couples) and I don't want to ruin it for them because of a date."
Not only that, but DuPage County Clerk Gary King said the federal court ruling last month that prompted Madigan to write to Bean that it would be legal to issue licenses stemmed from a Cook County case and only affected the issuance of marriage licenses in that county, not his or any others.
"(Madigan) said we shouldn't feel worried about doing this because she would back us up, but ... I've been in this business a long time and if the effective date is June 1, that's the effective date," said King, whose county is in suburban Chicago.
Brian Woessner, the clerk in Carroll County in northwestern Illinois, agreed, adding that because he is the clerk he would be the target of any lawsuit.
"As an elected official it's not the county who is going to get sued, they are going to sue me," he said.
Even Bean in central Illinois' Macon County said that while he will begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, he will make sure they understand possible legal risks of getting married before June 1.
"What my state's attorney said is there's a possibility that ... a court could determine we really didn't have the power to do this and the marriage is void," Bean said. "We will give copies of the letters from the attorney general to the state's attorney so they know that."
Clerk John Taylor in southern Illinois' Massac County said he hasn't thought about issuing the licenses before the law takes effect because he's too busy preparing for this month's primary election. But like other clerks, he said he is not ready to issue the licenses even if he thought he had the legal right to do so.
"We don't have the forms for the applications. And until we get the March primary election behind us, that is something I'm not going to address," Taylor said.