Gay marriage OK’d in DeKalb

By Kelley Byrne

DeKalb County issued its first marriage license for a same-sex couple on Thursday.

For Darla Cook, 57, and Jaelyn Paulsen, 50, March 17 holds a special meaning as it is the anniversary of their 2010 civil union and will now be the anniversary of their wedding. Cook, born and raised in DeKalb, and Paulsen, of Sycamore, thought it was important to get married in the place they grew up in.

“If the date that we had done our vows was after June then we would’ve waited. We wouldn’t have done all of this,” Cook said. “If we didn’t get this done we would be waiting another year, and that was our argument. The date was important to us.”

The couple filed suit against Douglas Johnson, DeKalb County clerk and recorder.

“They wanted to get a marriage license, and my staff was unaware that we could issue one,” Johnson said.

A similar case in Cook County — Lee vs. Orr — allowed the county to issue same-sex marriage licenses starting Feb. 21.

“The order said only Cook County,” Johnson said. “So they asked me, so they said, ‘Won’t you honor that?’ and I said, ‘I can’t. It’s a case in Cook County, and it says just Cook County,’ and the Legislature passed a law that we’ll be accepting same-sex marriages, but it doesn’t take effect until June 1.”

Because Johnson did not have a law to refer to, he was concerned the license, if given to the couple, would not be worth anything in the future.

“I kept referring to them the fact that I do not have a law and I do not have a court order, so even if I did issue them one, and in the future they wanted to receive benefits of a married couple, they would probably be denied because the license was worthless,” Johnson said.

The couple sought the help of local attorney Clay Campbell, who represented them for free.

“They started putting together handwritten pleadings and filed them with the court asking the court to order the county clerk to issue marriage licenses,” Campbell said. “They came to me and asked if I would argue their case in court.”

Same-sex marriage is officially legal in Illinois on June 1; however, the ruling in Cook County pushed Attorney General Lisa Madigan to issue an opinion that all county clerks in the state should immediately issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, Campbell said.

“It’s obviously an ongoing issue across the country, but in this case the state of Illinois has actually made legal same-sex marriage,” Campbell said. “The problem is that didn’t become effective until June 1, and so those couples that wanted to get married, like my client, had to wait until June 1 in order to do that.”

Campbell helped Cook and Paulsen with the legal process, and on Thursday the group was met with agreement by Johnson and Richard Schmack, DeKalb County state’s attorney. They were issued a marriage license by Judge Ron Matekaitis.

“This is a very, very gratifying experience for me as a lawyer because it’s very unusual for attorneys to come to court and agree on stuff,” Campbell said. “Especially on a contentious issue like this.”

The ruling extends to all same-sex couples in DeKalb County, meaning they can now get married before June 1, when the law will go into effect across the state.

“I think that the order that was entered [March 13] was correct,” Campbell said. “I think that some day we’re gonna look back on this and it’s going to seem kind of silly, that in one part of our history, we discriminated against two ladies because they wanted to get married.”

Cook was excited when the ruling came in her and Paulsen’s favor.

“We’re just both exhausted. I don’t know if it’ll completely hit us until tonight or tomorrow,” Cook said on Thursday.

Cook, whose marriage ceremony will be held in a local church and officiated by her and Paulsen’s pastor, said the marriage license is more meaningful than her civil union.

“Getting a civil union is like, OK, well we have some rights that we didn’t have, but this is a whole different feeling, this is serious, this is more real than a civil union,” Cook said. “A civil union was more like you still weren’t good enough, but this puts you on the same level, both good and bad.”