A federal judge in Chicago has ordered the Cook County Clerk to immediately grant a marriage license to two women — one of whom is terminally ill — Monday, over seven months in advance of the state's new marriage equality law taking effect.
Vernita Gray, 64, a longtime Chicago LGBT rights activist, suffers from two forms of cancer that threaten her life and is seeking to marry her girlfriend of five years, Patricia Ewert, according to lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois and Lambda Legal. The groups brought the case to court Nov. 22.
"Vernita is terminally ill and she wishes to marry the woman she loves before she dies — and now she won't have to wait another day," said Camilla Taylor, Marriage Project director for Lambda Legal. "These two women, who have loved and cared for each other in good times and bad, through sickness and through health, will get to know what it means to be married."
Upon their application for a marriage license, Cook County Clerk David Orr, who was named the defendant in the suit, has been granted the ability issue the couple a marriage license and said he will gladly comply with the court order. Orr has long been a proponent of marriage equality and refused to defend the state's ban on marriage for same-sex couples in a previous legal challenge brought on by the groups.
Gray was diagnosed with cancer in 1996, and despite treatment, the cancer has remained. Marriage would allow Gray and Ewert to celebrate their commitment and provide protection for Ewert should Gray die.
For example, under their current legal recognition by the state's civil union law, Ewert would be forced to pay an estate tax on assets left to her if Gray died. Marriage would exempt Ewert from the tax.
Currently, the Illinois marriage equality law is slated to take effect June 1 of next year — which could be too late for the couple, their lawyers said. The couple was present at a ceremony held by Gov. Pat Quinn Nov. 20 to celebrate his signing of the marriage equality legislation into law.
"I have two cancers, bone and brain, and I just had chemo today — I am so happy to get this news," Gray said. "I'm excited to be able to marry and take care of Pat, my partner and my family, should I pass."
Gray and Ewert were unavailable for additional comment Monday.