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Couple makes history in first same-sex marriage in Illinios

Patricia Ewert and Vernita Gray became the first same-sex couple to get married in Illinois Wednesday.

A federal judge granted an expedited marriage license to the couple because of Gray’s terminal cancer.

Gay marriage will be legal in Illinois June 1.

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One of Chicago’s longest activists for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights has died.

Vernita Gray passed away Tuesday, after a long battle with cancer.  She was 65.

“This is a very sad time,” family friend Mary Morten tells WGN.  “It’s not as though we didn’t know it was coming, but nonetheless when it happens it’s still shocking, it’s still jarring, and it’s going to be a huge void.”

Gray and her partner, Patricia Ewert, became the first same-sex couple to legally marry in Illinois back in November.

A federal judge gave Gray early clearance to marry because of her illness.

That case paved the way for couples in similar situations.

The original date to allow same-sex marriages in Illinois was June 1.

“Even in her final fight she turned her own illness into a rallying cry to move the same sex marriage date up and she was successful in that,” said friend and activist Art Johnston, a co-founder of Equality Illinois, a gay rights organization.

“One of the great icons of our community is gone,” Johnston told WGN.  “We will all miss her terribly.”

A memorial for Vernita Gray will be held March 31 at the Goodman Theatre.

Local News

Same sex couples marry in Cook County

People began lining up for marriage licenses within an hour of a judge’s ruling Friday that same sex couples in Cook County do not have to wait until June to marry.

One couple even got married by Clerk David Orr, who chose not to fight a lawsuit that sought to scrap the June effective date of Illinois’ same sex marriage law.

For now, the ruling by U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman applies only to Cook County. In her decision, Coleman wrote that “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.”

By Friday afternoon, Theresa Volpe and Mercedes Santos were getting married in Orr’s office.
Flanked by their 9-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son and holding rose bouquets from Orr, the couple reflected on the day for reporters. “Marriage for us is about family,” said Santos, 48. “There is no right or wrong as far as who gets married.”

Charlie Gurion, 25, heard about the ruling on Facebook and was at the courthouse by 12:30 p.m. with his fiancé David Wilk, 30, who left work to get their license.
“My heart is beating so fast,” Wilk said. “This is amazing.”

Orr said he will keep the downtown Bureau of Vital Records, in the lower level of the Daley Center, open an extra two hours tonight – until 7 p.m. – to accommodate any couples who want to get a license after work.

Only the downtown office will issue same-sex marriage licenses on Friday. All offices will begin issuing licenses on Monday, he said.
Orr said the office looks forward to long lines but he was not sure how many to expect. Extra staff will be brought in to cover the longer hours today.

Marriage licenses take effect the next calender day and are valid for 60 days.  “Don’t rush to get your license if you have a summer wedding planned because you don’t want the license to expire before your big day,” Orr cautioned.

A federal judge gave the go ahead to early marriage licenses for same-sex couples dealing with life threatening illness.

Illinois’s same sex marriage law doesn’t go into effect until June 1.

But less than three weeks ago, Vernita Gray and Patricia Ewert were allowed to become the state’s first legally married lesbians, because Gray is terminally ill.

That case triggered a class action lawsuit for other couples in similar circumstances.

The judge ordered Cook County to issue early licenses for couples who have a doctor’s certification that one or both of the partners may not live to be married on June 1st.

A gay couple in Illinois has an extra special reason to be grateful this Thanksgiving holiday.

“In sickness and in health has real meaning for us,” says Vernita Gray, who has battling terminal breast cancer. Gray and her soon-to-be spouse, Pat Ewert, plan to marry this week and become Illinois’ first married same-sex couple.

“Young people will look back in the way we look back at certain things, like women not being able to vote, and say, ‘Really? Was that our country?’” Gray said.

With extraordinary grace and courage, Gray and her loving partner face the immediate future, with weeks or perhaps only days to say goodbye.  But the 64-year-old Gray has one final wish: to marry her partner, among other things, and to make sure she’ll be OK once she’s gone.

“I worked my whole life. I have a pension, I have social security. These are the things we work for in life to help our families, not just to disappear because I’m going to leave this earth,” Gray said.

At a joyous ceremony last week, Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill into law that made Illinois the sixteenth state in the union to legalize same-sex marriage. The law will go into effect in June.

With the old laws still on the books, Gray and Ewert filed a lawsuit in federal court.

“It is discriminatory in an illegal way, based on someones sexual orientation.  and this case illustates constitutional violation is ongoing.  it affects people very day,” said lawyer Chris Clark with Lambda Legal.

Lambda Legal, and other attorneys, prevailed in court. The judge ordered the Cook County Clerk to immediately issue the historic first license — an order Clerk David Orr was happy to comply with.

“The judge was so brave to do what he did.  I’m amazed with the help of Lamda Legal, Kirk and Ellis. It’s more than I thought was out there,” Ewert said.

The judge’s decision has possibly opened a legal door for other sex-couples in similar predicaments.


Vernita Gray and Patricia Ewert will marry this week long before the Illinois marriage equality law takes effect in June.

Vernita Gray and Patricia Ewert will marry this week long before the Illinois marriage equality law takes effect in June.

A federal judge has ordered the Cook County Clerk to immediately issue a marriage license to the couple.

Gray, 64, is battling terminal breast cancer.

Two Chicago women say they are grateful that a long dream of theirs has finally been fulfilled. 

Patricia Ewert and Vernita Gray became the first same-sex couple to get married in Illinois Wednesday.

A federal judge granted an expedited marriage license to the couple because of Gray’s terminal cancer.

The state legalized gay marriage earlier this month but the law doesn’t take effect until June of next year.