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Marriage equality comes early for terminally ill, p. 2

A federal judge issued a ruling on Dec. 16, 2013, that cleared the way for same-sex couples with special circumstances to marry now, instead of waiting until the official June 1, 2014, effective date of Illinois' Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act. The decision only applies to couples if one partner has been diagnosed with a terminal illness.

As we discussed in our last post, the ruling is the result of a class action lawsuit. Because the lawsuit was filed against the Cook County Clerk -- who actually supported the plaintiffs -- the decision only applies there. Couples must apply for the marriage license in Cook County and must marry in Cook County. The marriage will be valid throughout the state.

The judge cited a number of reasons for her decision. First, there are a host of federal benefits to consider. As we discussed in our July 2, 2013, post, United States v. Windsor, the U.S. Supreme Court case that made same-sex marriage legal at the federal level, was about estate tax. The complainant was asked to pay more than $350,000 in estate taxes after her wife died; if the federal government had recognized their (legal) marriage, there wouldn't have been any estate tax at all.

Spouses receive Social Security survivors benefits, too; civil union partners do not. When Windsor was decided, there were approximately 1,000 federal laws that applied only to opposite-sex marriages and spouses.

There are other important reasons, too, the judge wrote. "Equally compelling," she said, "are the intangible personal and emotional benefits that the dignity of equal and official marriage status confers."

It is a bittersweet victory for these couples and all other couples who take advantage of the new rule, but it is a victory nonetheless.

Source: ABC News, "Illinois Gay Marriages OKed for Terminally Ill," Michael Tarm, Dec. 16, 2013 

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