A federal judge is allowing an Illinois same-sex couple to marry this week, seven months ahead of the new law going into effect, because one of them has terminal cancer.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin ordered Cook County Clerk David Orr to issue a marriage license to Vernita Gray and Patricia Ewert.
Gray, 64, has terminal breast cancer and her attorney says it is her last wish to marry Ewert, 65. The two have been engaged for several years.
Rather than contest the decision, Orr has decided to have the marriage license hand-delivered to their home
"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. "To be married here in Illinois, where they live, is crucial. It's something Vernita held as a dream for a while."
As a married couple, Gray and Ewert will be eligible for marriage benefits, but Gray was more worried about how she could take care of Ewert after she’s gone.
"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," Taylor said.
Gray learned that her cancer had spread to her brain in June 2013. She has had brain surgery, but might have only days or weeks to live.
The couple filed suit Friday and Judge Durkin acted immediately.
"This has been an amazingly wonderful surprise and we are thrilled beyond belief," Ewert said. "The judge was an amazing human being who understands our struggle. I'm surprised, happy, delighted."
The couple was represented by Lambda Legal civil rights groups, which says their case proves that no Illinois couple should have to wait seven months when same-sex marriage has already been voted into law.
"There is no sense to that, and there are many Illinois families that are suffering significant harm because they are not married," Taylor said. "While this family's situation is particularly dire, there are others, too, who need to be able to marry."