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Couple wins court order to marry before same-sex marriage law takes effect

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Updated: December 27, 2013 6:24AM

Vernita Gray would like to marry her partner when the same-sex marriage law takes effect in June, but she might not be alive then. She has terminal cancer.

With this in mind, federal Judge Thomas Durkin on Monday ordered Cook County Clerk David Orr to issue a marriage license so Gray, 64, can wed her partner Pat Ewert, 65. The couple had filed a lawsuit Friday afternoon, arguing that they should be allowed to marry early.

Their wedding will be the first gay marriage in Illinois.

Tuesday morning, as Ewert stepped into her elevator in the couple’s Edgewater condo building, a neighbor showed her a copy of Tuesday’s Chicago Sun-Times with a photograph of her and Gray on the front page. “Congratulations!” said another neighbor.

“We feel very blessed,” Ewert told the Sun-Times Tuesday.

Gray, who has inoperable brain tumors and breast cancer that has spread to her bones, learned of the news shortly after undergoing chemotherapy, which left her in a weakened state. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1996.

“She may choose to wait a day or two to get married, just because the day after treatment can be very difficult,” said Camilla Taylor, the couple’s attorney. Taylor said Gray’s brain tumors could begin to fatally swell any day. “It could happen at any time without warning.”

Courtney Greve, spokesman for Clerk David Orr, said the paperwork for the marriage license was hand-delivered to the couple Monday night and would make them eligible for marriage at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday.

But Ewert said the couple haven’t made any definite plans.

“We’ll just have a simple ceremony,” she said. “We are so blessed in that we have friends who are judges. We’re luckier than most, even if it’s getting something done in (a judge’s) chambers.”

A honeymoon will have to wait.

“We have to take advantage when Vernita is feeling better and stronger,” Ewert said.

The couple’s first date was at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

Until her retirement a few years ago, Gray worked as a victims advocate with the Cook County state’s attorney’s office.

“She worked with hate-crimes victims. She would support them,” Taylor said.

Gray and Ewert were one of the first gay couples to join in civil union when the practice became law in 2011.

Gray is a member of the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame. According to a profile on the group’s website, Gray was an early leader in Chicago’s gay-liberation movement. She organized a gay and lesbian hotline in 1969 and hosted support groups.

“This case illustrates the cruelty of the wait before the marriage law goes into effect, and it’s wonderful to give them relief and the understanding of what it is to be married before its too late,” Taylor said.

“I certainly think Vernita and Pat are not the only couples suffering severe harm from being prevented from being married,” Taylor said. “I suspect there will be others.”


Twitter: @mitchdudek

Contributing: Stefano Esposito

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