Citywide Pride continued its streak of free events June 19 with "The Case for Marriage Equality in Illinois," a panel discussion that focused on the Darby v. Orr lawsuit.
Lambda Legal filed Darby v. Orr in May 2012 on behalf of 16 same-sex couples that want the right to marry in Illinois. The suit has since stalled in a Cook County circuit court.
"When it comes to same-sex marriage, there are two paths to victory," said Christopher Clark, a Lambda Legal senior attorney who's handling Darby v. Orr. "You can either win through the courtswhich is what we're trying to door you can convince a legislature."
Mercedes Santos and Theresa Volpe, who make up one of the 16 couples, spoke at the free event, which was held in the law offices of Hinshaw & Culbertson, 222 N. LaSalle St.
"Our kids are our driving force," Volpe said when asked why the longtime couple joined the lawsuit. Volpe is currently pregnant with the couple's third child.
"When you have these little kids looking in your face, and you have to say to them: Your family is treated differently than your friend's or your cousin's. … It's hard to explain that to them and make it be okay," Volpe said.
Santos and Volpe, who have a civil union, shared a story about trying to procure a marriage license. While they were in Skokie, Ill., one day, the couple stopped by a county clerk's office.
An employee kindly explained to Santos and Volpe that they didn't want a marriage license. It was a civil union they were after.
"We told her we already had a civil union," Santos said. "We wanted to get married. [The woman] basically said, 'We don't have a form for that… Our computer doesn't do that.'"
The employee then turned to a co-worker and said that Santos and Volpe wanted a marriage license. This co-worker, too, pointed the women toward a civil union.
"[The first woman] said, 'No, they already have a civil union. They want an upgrade,'" Santos said. "She had admitted right there that what we got was a downgraded version."
Santos and Volpe left the county clerk's office without a marriage license and have since lobbied for marriage equality in Springfield. The process can be daunting, they said.
"I want to put the image in your head of traveling down to Springfield with your family and meeting with a political lobbyist who grabs your hand and opens the door and says, 'There's Hostile Legislator No. 1. Go to it,'" Clark said.
Santos and Volpe said they find the process worthwhile because the women want to show their children that they can accomplish anything "if you use your voice."
Clark explained that Darby v. Orr is based on two legal theories.
"The gist of the complaints is that by denying same-sex couples the right to marry, the state is infringing on a fundamental right to marry, which is a violation of the due process law," Clark said.
"The second set of legal arguments is that there's an equal protection problem here, which is that by denying same-sex couples the right to marry, you are discriminating against them on the basis of both their sex and their sexual orientation."
Clark said he was hopeful the Illinois General Assembly would pass marriage equality in the near futuremaking his lawsuit obsolete. Lawsuits can take years, he said, and he'd rather see a swift victory.
"The Supreme Court generally doesn't jump ahead of society on issues," Clark said about the high court that could eventually hear his case. "They tend to drag behind and do clean up afterwards."
The panel was co-sponsored by the LGBT Affinity Group of Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP and Robert W. Baird & Co. William Lopez, an attorney at Hinshaw, moderated.
Citywide Pride, now in its 12th year, is a series of presentations and networking events hosted by the Out & Equal Chicagoland Leadership Council.