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Illinois justice talks marriage 'moment'
by Matt Simonette

Illinois State Supreme Court Justice Mary Jane Theis said that the date that the United States Supreme Court's decision on marriage equality was handed down—June 26—was a most auspicious occasion for her already: It was her 44th wedding anniversary.

"My husband and I were greeted by a meditation on marriage by Justice Anthony Kennedy—more profound or beautiful than any greeting card could have been," Theis said. "You certainly remember on that day, that amazing day, commentators very often would say, 'Can you believe how quick how quick change has come to this country? This was so fast.' … What those people were missing was that there was a long and difficult struggle, marked by hard work and personal sacrifice."

She delivered her remarks July 21 at Equality Illinois' annual "Raising the Bar" breakfast at the InterContinental Hotel, which, this year, paid tribute to 42 law firms for their commitment to workplace diversity. The firms were identified by the organization's 2015 Law Firm Survey.

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Theis further spoke about the role that lawyers and judges played in the struggle for LGBT rights. "On marriage equality, in many quarters, there has been genuine discussion of what was the best way forward. … That tension, of where the law and the courts fit in social change, is a genuine discussion we should have. If you get past the vitriol in the [Supreme Court's marriage equality] dissents, it's really a discussion about what is the role of social change in the courts, specifically Justice Roberts' dissent. … But on that amazing day, no one could question the court's moral authority."

She also called for legal professionals to rekindle any sparks of social action they might have lost in the drudgery of a day-to-day grind in their work: "In this amazing moment, I ask you to re-commit yourself to why you chose this path."

Her comments echoed those of Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois, when he reported how much progress had been made by legal professionals in the state. While 100 percent of firms responding to the survey had equal employment or non-discrimination policies covering sexual orientation, about 88 percent of those firms now covered gender identity, for example.

"We believe law firms have the ability, and therefore the responsibility, to make society better," said Cherkasov.

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