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Illinois same-sex couples sue for right to marry

AP Photo/M. Spencer Green

Claudia Mercado, left, holds her son Indigo Lopez-Mercado as Angelica Lopez right, holds the couple's other child, Isabel, as they gather for a news conference on the lawsuits in Chicago on May 30, 2012.

Twenty-five couples are challenging the constitutionality of an Illinois’ law that bans same-sex marriage, saying their only legal option of civil unions gives an inferior status to their relationships and denies them equal rights under the law.

The couples, some who have been together for decades and have children, filed separate complaints in Cook County Circuit Court on Wednesday, asking for the law that went into effect last year to be thrown out. Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois are representing them.

“Both complaints assert that the marriage ban deprives Illinois same-sex couples of their fundamental right to marry and their right to equality under the law," Camilla Taylor, National Marriage Project Director for Lambda Legal, told msnbc.com.

“Some of our clients approached us ten years ago in connection with their yearning to marry here in Illinois and we’ve been telling them up until now it’s not time, and today it’s time," she said. "I think as a nation we are now at a tipping point, it’s a national moment.”

The ACLU said in a statement that the couples described how it felt to be “relegated to a legal status that sends the message that the state regards their relationships as inferior” and said the “freedom to marry will remove the stigma and other problems associated with civil unions.”

“Our relationship is not about some legal benefits and protections, but about love for one another,” said Tanya Lazaro, lead plaintiff in the ACLU case with Elizabeth Matos. The couple recently had a second child and have rejected getting a civil union. “We love each other; we are committed to one another. Anything short of marriage does not recognize that love and commitment.”

Lamba Legal helped draft the civil union legislation, which Taylor said "was an important first step to provide some measure of legal protections for Illinois families who had nothing up until then."

But today, she said, "these couples have been living their lives in civil unions for a year now and they have experienced confusion and hurt and private bias, and they shouldn’t be forced to wait any longer."

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Six states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage, while 31 states have constitutional amendments that effectively ban gay marriage (this tally does not include California, where federal judges have ruled the amendment unconstitutional though further appeals are expected).

In mid-May, President Barack Obama said he supported same-sex marriage, becoming the first American president to do so. A Gallup poll released around the same time showed 50 percent of Americans saying same-sex marriage should be legal, compared to 48 percent opposed. Support for gay marriage fell slightly in that poll from a record high of 53 percent in 2011, the first time a majority of Americans favored gay marriage. Opposition was 45 percent in that poll.

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