Same-sex marriage licenses now offered in Champaign County

It was 8 a.m., and what began like any other day filled with classes and homework ended with the decision of a lifetime for two University students.

Marissa and Laura Meli, both third-year students in the College of Law, were the first couple in line after the Champaign County Clerk’s decision to offer early marriage licenses to same-sex couples, thus becoming the second county in Illinois to do so.

“It’s really cool that things have progressed this much. I’ve kind of always felt like it would eventually come, but to actually have it be here and be now and be real and to have the license is really cool,” Laura said.

On Friday, District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman ruled that same-sex couples in Cook County would not have to wait until June 1, the date originally set by Illinois legislators, to marry.

The couple received their civil union license last February, but the ruling now allows them to go through the same process as straight couples.

“Now you merge the line to the civil union line and the marriage line … It was little things, but it was validating,” Marissa said. “It was the state saying, ‘Hey, in our eyes you have the same relationship as a straight couple getting married.’”

Though the ruling did not have a clear effect on other Illinois counties, Gordy Hulten, Champaign County clerk, said same-sex couples across the state should not have to wait to marry.

“After consulting with State’s Attorney Julia Rietz, I have come to the conclusion that the rationale of the case applies to all citizens of Illinois and that Champaign County residents should have no fewer Constitutional rights than those in Cook County,” he said in a press release.

Hulten added that given the ruling, refusing to offer marriage licenses to same-sex couples provided no benefit to the county and may potentially result in litigation at the taxpayer’s expense.

Marissa said Champaign’s decision was unexpected despite the Cook County ruling.

“In Champaign County, Gordy and Julia- and the rest of the staff there — no one was suing them, no one was bringing a case to them — they made that decision because they thought it was the right thing (to do),” she said.

The couple imagined they were going to have to wait until June, like everyone else, but were proud that the county “went out of their way and purposefully made this decision.”

Though they have not set a date yet, Laura said her mother is already planning for the big day, and the couple has 60 days to have a judge sign the license to validate the marriage.

Champaign County’s decision Wednesday inspired the couple to take the plunge.

“I said, ‘Let’s do that — this is where our friends are, we live here, we’ve been here for three years, most of the people we love are here, and those who aren’t can travel.’ It’s nice not to have to go two and a half hours out of your way to get married in a place that doesn’t mean as much to you,” Marissa said.

It’s not yet clear whether other counties across the state will follow suit and begin to offer same-sex marriage licenses prior to June 1.

Eleanor and Bryan can be reached at [email protected]