A same-sex Chicago couple will be allowed to marry this week after a federal court ordered that the Cook County clerk immediately issue them a marriage license, officials said.
Vernita Gray and Patricia Ewert will be issued their license seven months before the state’s gay marriage bill goes into effect because one of the women is currently battling terminal cancer, attorneys said.
The court decision was made Monday by U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin, and County Clerk David Orr said he would comply.
“As a supporter of same-sex marriage, I’m pleased Judge Durkin granted relief to Patricia Ewert and Vernita Gray in this difficult hour,” said Orr in a statement.
“We’re very happy for this ruling for this couple,” said John Knight, a director of the LGBT Project at the ACLU of Illinois. “We understand that this is an incredibly important right for all same-sex couples. If it had not been granted, it would have likely have been unavailable to them. Ms. Gray is simply too ill to wait until June to marry.”
Gray and Ewert filed a lawsuit in District Court on Friday arguing that they should be granted the right to marry before the law formally takes effect in June. The women have been in a committed relationship for more than five years and in 2011 entered into a civil union.
Gray, 64, has lived in Illinois all her life and is suffering from terminal breast cancer. It was her last wish to be formally married to her partner, the couple’s attorney’s said.
“They have had a civil union but marriage is a value that is important to them,” said Camilla Taylor, Marriage Project Director for Lambda Legal, which also represented the couple in court. “To be married here in Illinois where they live is crucial. It’s something Vernita held as a dream for a while.
“There were also tangible benefits that would have been denied them,” Taylor explained. “For example, if they are not married in their civil union and Vernita passed away, Patricia would be forced to pay for an estate tax. A civil union doesn’t exempt you from that. There are also federal laws that require a valid marriage before someone can access family medical leave.
“There are challenges for couples that seek social security benefits if they are in a civil union but not a marriage including benefits for survivals,” Taylor said. “One of Vernita’s concerns was her ability to take care of pat when she goes. Once they are married, that will make a difference to Pat’s situation financially.”
Gray and Ewert were unavailable for comment on Monday night. But their attorneys said they were thrilled by the decision.