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What does the Supreme Court's DOMA ruling mean for Illinois?

June 26, 2013|By Rachel Cromidas, @rachelcromidas | RedEye

The Supreme Court on Wednesday struck down a cornerstone of the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 federal law which prevented the government from recognizing same-sex marriages and said individual states did not have to acknowledge the relationships of same-sex couples married in another state.

RedEye talked to marriage equality advocates from Equality Illinois and the Human Rights Campaign about the key takeaways from the ruling.

Does the decision change who is allowed to get married? What about the legal protections for same-sex couples?

The ruling says the federal government must now recognize the legal marriages of same-sex couples. But it does not mean the 37 states where same-sex marriage is still illegal--including Illinois--must legalize it now.


So what exactly does the ruling change?

We don't know the specific changes yet, and won't until the Obama administration issues guidelines on it.

But the ruling is likely to have a significant impact on same-sex families, who through DOMA have not been covered by about 1,100 federal marriage provisions, according to Michael Cole-Schwartz, communication director at the HRC. Those provisions cover who can receive social security or veterans benefits, file joint tax returns, take family and medical leave, be sponsored for a green card, and sign-on to a spouse's federal health insurance, among others.

"There's a whole slew of things, and it will take the federal government time to weed through that and figure out what, given this decision, they're able to provide to same-sex couples," Cole-Schwartz said.

Randy Hannig, the director of public policy for Equality Illinois, said even though it is too soon to say what specific federal protections will be granted to same-sex marriages, or how, the changes should be significant.

"If they come out with anything less than the fact that same-sex couples deserve to be treated the same, then obviously we're going to fight any of those assumptions," he said.
How soon will the Obama administration say what the decision means for the federal government?

Legal experts say it will likely be a matter of days, once the attorney general reviews the decision. Then federal agencies will likely announce how they will implement the ruling.

What does the ruling mean for Illinois? Will it make the state government more likely to legalize gay marriage?

All those changes at the federal level would apply to the unknown number of same-sex couples who reside in Illinois but are married elsewhere, Hannig said. It could also help advocacy groups like Equality Illinois push for gay marriage to be legalized here.

Earlier this year the state senate approved a marriage equality bill, and Gov. Quinn vowed to sign it into law, but the House of Representatives did not take a vote before the end of the legislative session May 31 because members said they needed "more time" to review it.

"The decisions and opinions of the Supreme Court today will help bolster our argument when we talk to legislators in Springfield," he said. "They want to be on the right side of history."

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