SPRINGFIELD -- County clerks were scrambling Friday to determine whether a federal court ruling could trigger an early start to the state's new same-sex marriage law.
Although U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman ruled Friday that same-sex marriages can begin immediately in Cook County, supporters of the law said her decision opens the door for gay marriages to begin in all of Illinois' 102 counties.
In Jackson County, Clerk Larry Reinhardt said he's awaiting further direction from legal counsel. But, he said it wouldn't be a problem if he was directed to begin issuing marriage licenses before the state law goes into effect June 1.
"We're already set up for the June implementation," Reinhardt said Friday. "It should be an easy transition."
Macon County Clerk Stephen Bean said county lawyers recommended the county not move forward to begin issuing licenses.
In a letter from the Macon County state's attorney's office, Bean was told that "unless and until ordered to do so by a court of competent jurisdiction, you, as Macon County Clerk, may not violate the standing law of the State of Illinois by issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples at this time."
Most clerks said they wouldn't be able to do anything soon because they hadn't yet had same-sex marriage forms printed.
"I certainly understand why it could start now. But we're just not prepared yet. We've got to be able to input this correctly," said McLean County Clerk Kathy Michael.
Rock Island County Clerk Karen Kinney said Friday afternoon that she had not heard of the ruling and had no plans to make any changes yet. “I’m not going to jump the gun on anything,” she said.
In some downstate counties, there may not be a huge rush if a decision is made to start early.
Shelby County Clerk Jessica Fox said she had four couples apply for civil union licenses in 2011 and two in 2012.
"I'll be anxious to see how this plays out," Fox said Friday.
Coleman's decision is the latest step in a case that began soon after Illinois lawmakers and Gov. Pat Quinn made Illinois the latest state in the nation to legalize gay marriage.
A same-sex couple filed suit in Cook County asking if they could get married immediately -- rather than wait for the June 1 launch date -- because one of the partners had a life-threatening illness.
In her latest ruling, Coleman said the immediate start date shouldn't be limited to those with illnesses.
"There is no reason to delay further when no opposition has been presented to this Court and committed gay and lesbian couples have already suffered from the denial of their fundamental right to marry," she wrote in the order.
Although the decision explicitly says it only applies to Cook County, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois contends it does affect all counties because the judge's ruling found the state's ban on gay marriage to be unconstitutional.
"A county clerk takes an oath to uphold the law and the constitution," said ACLU spokesman Ed Yohnka.
Quinn issued a statement agreeing that gay marriages should be allowed throughout the state before the June 1 start date.
The Illinois Department of Public Health, which oversees the state's marriage registry system, was assessing the ruling Friday.
"Our legal team is reviewing the ruling and its impact," said Public Health spokeswoman Melaney Arnold.
Coles County Clerk Sue Rennels said she would await a decision from the state.
"When I hear the official word from the sate that the same sex marriage date has been changed I will comply," she said in an email Friday evening.
The decision caused state Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon, to drop his bid to repeal the same-sex marriage law.
McCarter said while the ruling may be limited to Cook County, he expects similar suits will be filed against other county clerks throughout the state.
“The ruling is both disappointing and troubling,” McCarter said in a statement. “Obviously disappointing because of the radical change to our culture that the same-sex marriage law ushers in and the fact citizens in general were given no adequate voice in the decision-making."