CHICAGO, July 2, 2012 ( – Two Chicago lawyers with the Thomas More Society (TMS) are asking to step in and defend Illinois’ law defining marriage between a man and a woman after local officials refused to do so.

Effingham County Clerk Kerry Hirtzel and Tazewell County Clerk Christie Webb said they would not defend the 16-year-old marriage law in response to the legal challenge of 25 gay and lesbian couples, because, they said, traditional marriage violated homosexuals’ right to equal protection under the Illinois Constitution. The suit is backed by the ACLU and Lambda Legal Defense & Education Fund, a leading gay rights legal group.

The intervention motion was requested by the Society on Friday and is currently set for hearing on Tuesday. The lawyers report that TMS attorneys have already been appointed Special Assistant State’s Attorneys to represent Webb and Hirtzel in the litigation.

“When the ACLU and Lambda Legal brought plaintiffs from across the State of Illinois to sue the Cook County Clerk, this became a statewide issue affecting the duties and responsibilities of every county clerk in the State of Illinois,” said Peter Breen, executive director and legal counsel of the Thomas More Society.

“Legal claims similar to those asserted here by the ACLU and Lambda Legal have been rejected by every federal appellate court and the substantial majority of state courts. Illinois’ marriage law is valid and constitutional. Our state’s laws deserve robust defense, and with this motion to intervene, we intend to ensure that defense.”

The ACLU and Lambda Legal said that the General Assembly acted with intent to discriminate against same-sex couples when it enacted the Illinois Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. At that time, the sponsors of the legislation, Sen. Peter Fitzgerald and Rep. Tom Johnson, stated that the legislation was intended to preserve the traditional understanding of marriage and ensure that Illinois would not be required to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

During the debate on the measure, Senator John Cullerton, now the President of the Illinois Senate, opposed the legislation because he thought it was unnecessary, stating that “it is very clear that today in Illinois marriage is reserved as a union between a man and a woman …. There are historic, cultural, religious, and civil traditions for this, and we should continue in that tradition.”

“The fundamental right to marry … cannot be unmoored from its anchor in our legal traditions and practices and given a wholly novel and unprecedented meaning,” wrote TMS lawyers in their memorandum supporting a motion to dismiss the case. “it is precisely because the opposite-sex nature of marriage is the essence of marriage as it has been understood in our history that plaintiffs’ claim must be rejected.”