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Court Order Allows Couple To Marry Before Illinois Same-Sex Marriage Law Takes Effect

By Chuck Sudo in News on Nov 26, 2013 2:40PM

Vernita Gray (left) and Pat Ewert. (Photo via Vernita Gray's Facebook page.)

Illinois became the 16th state to recognize same-sex marriage when Gov. Pat Quinn signed the marriage equality bill into law last week but the law doesn’t take effect until June 1, 2014. This means some gay and lesbian couples now are in a race against the calendar to fulfill their dreams of being married, whether because of age or terminal illness.

One couple won a court order allowing them to get married ahead of the law going into effect. Vernita Gray and Pat Ewert filed a lawsuit Friday arguing they be allowed to marry early. The two have been a couple for over five years and entered into a civil union in 2011 but Gray has been fighting breast cancer since 1996 that has spread to her bones and formed inoperable tumors in her brain. Her last wish is to be married to Ewert, to whom she proposed on Christmas Day 2009.

Attorneys for Gray and Ewert argued they be allowed to marry given Gray’s condition. The office of Cook County Clerk David Orr, an advocate of marriage equality, chose not to defend itself. A spokeswoman for Orr said marriage license paperwork would be hand-delivered Monday night to the couple, making them eligible to wed as early as Tuesday.

Camilla Taylor, the couple’s attorney, told the Sun-Times Gray may “choose to wait a day or two to get married, just because the day after treatment can be very difficult.” Jim Bennett, a friend of the couple, said the two are “thrilled” at the news and that “the most important thing for Vernita was to be able to protect Pat.”

(W)ith Social Security and federal benefits and how estates are handled in a marriage, it really makes them full-class citizens in Illinois.”

Gray is a pioneering gay rights activist in Chicago. She organized a gay and lesbian hotline in 1969—the hotline telephone number was FBI-LIST—and established Lavender Woman, Chicago’s first lesbian newspaper. For over 20 years she was a victims advocate for the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office and her work to empower African-American gays and lesbians often put her in harm’s way within Chicago’s black community. Ewert is the community outreach coordinator for Illinois Rep. Kelly Cassidy, one of the chief sponsors of the marriage equality law.

Gray, in her weakened state, still took to the picket lines to fight for passage of the law.