IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Same-sex couples facing terminal illness in Illinois can wed immediately

A federal judge has signed an order allowing same-sex couples with partners who have a life-threatening illness to marry immediately.
Vernita Gray, left, and Patricia Ewert hold their Illinois marriage license
Vernita Gray, left, and Patricia Ewert hold their Illinois marriage license, after they were married in the first gay marriage in Illinois at their home in Chicago on Nov. 27, 2013

Same-sex couples who have a partner facing a life-threatening illness no longer have to wait until the summer to get married in Illinois. 

A federal judge signed an order Monday allowing same-sex couples to marry ahead of the June 1 implementation date when marriage equality takes effect in the state. 

“This Court can conceive of no reason why the public interest would be disserved by allowing a few couples facing terminal illness to wed a few months earlier than the timeline would currently allow,” Coleman wrote in her order.

Several couples with one ailing partner have previously secured marriage licenses. But until his week, they first had to seek a judge’s order. With Coleman’s decision, all they need now is a doctor's note.

“For these couples to be able to wed now, without having to go to court and reveal details about the medical condition, is really important,” Ed Yohnka of the American Civil Liberties Union, said.

Gay couples seeking an early marriage can obtain a form from their county clerk's office and get it certified by a physician confirming the terminal illness. While Coleman's ruling only applies to Cook County, gay rights advocates are hoping this will allow expedite time for dozens of couples who cannot wait until June 1. 

Patricia Ewert and her partner, Vernita Gray, who is terminally ill with breast cancer, became the first same-sex couple to legally wed in Illinois last month after they asked a federal judge for an expedited license. 

"When you have a terminal illness, every day is significant," said Camilla Taylor, Marriage Project Director for Lambda Legal. "Even though we know the freedom to marry is coming to Illinois, the default implementation date of the new law is too far away for these couples."

"While no one should be told that they cannot marry for a period of months, for couples who are dealing with a life-threatening medical condition, the delay in implementing Illinois' marriage law could turn out to be an absolute bar to being married at all. We thank the Court and the clerk's office for their swift response to ensure that Illinois couples who are struggling with the challenges of a life-threatening illness will have a chance to be married," said Taylor in a statement. 

Coleman's ruling has already allowed two couples to marry —Elvie Jordan and Challis Gibbs, who was diagnosed with an aggressive form of stage 4 neuroendocrine cancer, were wed on Dec. 12; Ronald Dorfman, who was diagnosed with systolic congestive heart failure, and Ken Ilio were married the following day.

"Today we're happy that the judge has agreed to protect other people who have serious illnesses, and we have an agreement from the State's Attorney and David Orr's office for a simple certification process," said John Knight, ACLU Illinois' LGBT director. "It's a great day for people who need to marry now and deal with emergency situations. Marriage is hugely important for same-sex couples, healthy or otherwise, but for those people, they really need it now."

A petition was submitted on Dec. 16 that argued plaintiffs battling terminal illnesses or serious medical concerns, are unfairly subject to Illinois’ new law by having to wait until June 1 to apply for marriage licenses. “If immediate and temporary relief is not granted to [the plaintiffs], and the putative subclass, they will be irreparably harmed, because [the terminally ill], and other ill subject members may not live to see the effective date of the Illinois marriage ban repeal,” the petition stated, arguing for an exception to allow speedier marriages.

Illinois became the 16th state last month to legalize gay marriage.