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Sixth Circuit Decision Regarding Same-Sex Marriage Could Affect Law in Illinois

Posted on in Family Law

Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, Illinois divorce lawyer, DuPage County family law attorney,The U.S. Supreme Court made headlines last month when it declined to review several same-sex marriage cases, allowing the unions to proceed in those states and opening the door for them to proceed in others. That decision also affirmed the legality of same-sex marriage in Illinois. However, a recent decision by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals could have an impact on Illinois family law – and family law across the country – if that case ultimately winds up before the Supreme Court.

Federal Court Jurisdiction

There are three main levels in the federal court system. The trial court level is classified by district. For example, there are three federal district courts in Illinois: the Northern District, the Southern District and the Central District. Appeals from those courts are heard by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which also hears cases originating from district courts in Indiana and Wisconsin.

Decisions made by the Seventh Circuit control the decisions that can be made by the district courts in all three states. So when the Seventh Circuit allowed same-sex marriage in Wisconsin – and when the Supreme Court denied to review that decision – it effectively upheld same-sex marriage in Illinois and Indiana as well.

The Sixth Circuit Decision

On November 6, the Sixth Circuit upheld same-sex marriage bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. Prior to that decision, no circuit court of appeals had upheld a same-sex marriage ban. That means there is a circuit split – i.e., a difference of opinion among circuit courts regarding the constitutionality of bans on same-sex marriage. The Sixth Circuit, unlike the Fourth, Seventh, Ninth and Tenth circuits, held that the question of same-sex marriage should not be decided by the courts but should instead be left to the states.

What does that mean for same-sex marriage in Illinois? Gay couples still have the right to marry in this state. However, that could change if the Supreme Court ends up reviewing the Sixth Circuit’s decision and affirms that court’s ruling. After all, the Supreme Court is the ultimate authority on the U.S. Constitution, and its decisions affect every jurisdiction in the country.

But the opposite is true as well. If the Supreme Court reversed the Sixth Circuit’s decision, then same-sex marriage could become legal throughout the entire United States. This would mean that a same-sex marriage recognized in Illinois would also have to be recognized in Kentucky (and anywhere else where same-sex marriage is not currently allowed).

While either outcome is a possibility, it is far from guaranteed. In the meantime, same-sex couples wishing to marry in Illinois should proceed as usual. If you have questions regarding state or county-specific marriage requirements, contact one of our experienced St. Charles family law attorneys for a free consultation.
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