Drew Zahn is a WND news editor who cut his journalist teeth as a member of the award-winning staff of Leadership, Christianity Today's professional journal for church leaders. A former pastor, he is the editor of seven books, including Movie-Based Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching, which sparked his ongoing love affair with film and his weekly WND column, "Popcorn and a (world)view."More ↓Less ↑
The legal definition of marriage in Illinois – codified as between one man and one woman – almost fell without a fight.
In a bold move, the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal Defense & Education Fund brought together 25 same-sex couples from around the state to sue the clerk of just one county – Chicago’s Cook County – for the right to “marry,” demanding that Illiniois’ 1996 Defense of Marriage Act be deemed unconstitutional.
Only … the clerk didn’t fight the suit. In fact, Cook County Clerk David Orr released a statement saying he sided with the plaintiffs against himself.
And the county’s state attorney said she wouldn’t defend the state’s traditional marriage law either.
Even Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan joined the scheme, intervening in the case, only not to defend the state law, but to attack it.
The coordinated attack left no one to defend the law and could have allowed Cook County to start issuing same-sex “marriage” licenses.
But at the last minute, the Thomas More Society, a national public interest law firm that exists “to restore respect in law for life, marriage and religious liberty,” stepped in.
Peter Breen, executive director and legal counsel of the Thomas More Society, explained to WND how close Illinois came to having their marriage law thrown into upheaval.
“State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez filed papers essentially granting the plaintiffs their case, and the defendant filed papers agreed with plaintiff,” Breen said. “Lisa Madigan joined with the couples and filed a motion to intervene to attack the constitutionality of the state law. Most folks would expect to defend it, not attack it. At that point, there was no one in the case defending the law.
“If case were allowed to go forward,” he explained, “Illinois would have had two sets of marriage laws: one for Cook County, one for the rest of the state.
“We needed to get someone with standing to intervene,” Breen said, “so we urged the 101 other county clerks in the state that they had right to intervene. One Republican and one democrat were among the first to respond and stepped forward quickly to ensure that instead of the law being struck down without argument, we now have a good opportunity to have a fair and robust hearing for this law.”
“When the ACLU and Lambda Legal brought plaintiffs from across the State of Illinois to sue the Cook County Clerk,” Breen said in a statement, “this became a statewide issue affecting the duties and responsibilities of every county clerk in the state of Illinois.”
Apparently, the judge in the case agreed, just this week granting the Thomas More Society’s motion to intervene on behalf of Tazewell County Clerk Christie Webb and Effingham County Clerk Kerry Hirtzel.
“We count it a victory,” Breen told WND. “The people of Illinois were almost put in a difficult position, where their marriage law was struck down without any legal argument being made.”
The ACLU and Lambda Legal have asserted that the Illinois General Assembly acted with intent to discriminate against same-sex couples when it enacted the Illinois Defense of Marriage Act in 1996.
At that time, the sponsors of the legislation, Sen. Peter Fitzgerald and Rep. Tom Johnson, stated that the legislation was intended to preserve the traditional understanding of marriage and ensure that Illinois would not be required to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.
Breen told WND that with a robust defense, the Illinois Defense of Marriage Act should stand.
“The claims that the plaintiffs bring here are the same or similar to claims rejected repeatedly in federal and many state courts,” Breen explained. “In order to win the case, the other side has to prove there is no rational reason at all to recognize marriage only between man and woman and to uphold traditional marriage as an ideal.
“And when you look at institution like marriage,” he continued, “the immediate, compelling reason for the importance of marriage is the begetting and raising of children. We all know, and the data supports the fact, that children are best raised by their married mother and father.
“When looking at this case, we would contend the other side will not be able to prove there is no reason for marriage to be between one man and one woman,” he concluded.