Vernita Gray, part of 1st gay couple to wed in Illinois, dies

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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.

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