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Court allows terminally ill gay woman to marry early

A federal court in Illinois ruled that a terminally ill woman could marry her partner seven months before the state's marriage equality law goes into effect.
Vernita Gray (L) and Pat Ewert kiss after their Civil Union ceremony in Chicago, June 2, 2011.
Vernita Gray (L) and Pat Ewert kiss after their Civil Union ceremony in Chicago, June 2, 2011.

For thousands of gay couples living in Illinois, June 1 is a day that can’t come soon enough. That’s the date the state’s marriage equality law, signed last week by Gov. Pat Quinn, goes into effect.

But for Vernita Gray and Patricia Ewert, June 1 is literally a day they cannot wait for. And on Monday, a federal judge declared they wouldn’t have to.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin ordered the Cook County clerk to issue an expedited marriage license to the two women, who have been together for more than five years. Gray is battling terminal cancer, and was told by her doctors she could have only weeks to live. So the two filed a lawsuit on Friday arguing for the right to marry immediately, a privilege granted to heterosexual couples in similar situations.

County Clerk David Orr, a longtime supporter of marriage equality, said he would comply with Monday’s order, clearing the way for Gray and Ewert to be the first gay couple married in the state of Illinois. The two are expected to wed later this week.

In 2011, Gray and Ewert entered into a civil union, which entitled them to the same legal rights and benefits given to heterosexual spouses under state law. But in order for Ewert to qualify for the federal estate tax exemption and other benefits, she would need to have been legally married to Gray.

Financial motivations, however, were secondary to the emotional reasons behind the couple’s desire to wed. According to their attorney, it's been Gray’s longtime wish to marry her partner in Illinois.