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Wednesday, May 29, 2024 | Back issues
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Couple Wins Bid to Marry Ahead of Same-Sex Law

CHICAGO (CN) - Illinois officials must issue a marriage license to a lesbian couple before same-sex marriage becomes legal next year because one partner is battling terminal cancer, a federal judge ruled.

Under a law passed by the Illinois legislature in November, same-sex marriage will become legal in the state on June 1, 2014 - the day county clerks can officially begin issuing marriage licenses to gays and lesbians.

Vernita Gray and Patricia Ewert are Chicago residents and have been in a committed relationship for more than five years. But Gray is now terminally ill with breast cancer, and may only have weeks to live.

Their current civil union does not allow Ewert to make health decisions on Gray's behalf or receive survivor benefits. So the couple filed for a temporary restraining order in federal court in an effort to force Cook County Clerk David Orr to issue them a marriage license as soon as possible.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan joined their case, arguing that current Illinois law discriminates against individuals who wish to marry based on their sexual orientation. Orr joined Madigan in that argument.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin made the decision to allow the couple to marry from the bench on Nov. 25, 2013, and issued his opinion 10 days later. Gray and Ewert became the first same-sex couple legally married in Illinois on Nov. 27, 2013.

"When balancing the equities as the court is required to do, the court concludes that the requested injunctive relief is the only equitable result," Durkin wrote. "Given the compelling circumstances surrounding Gray's medical condition and her potentially imminent death, the injury she and Ewert would suffer by denying injunctive relief would be irreparably great."

He continued: "There is no legislative history that the parties have pointed to, or that the court could find, that provides either a legitimate governmental justification or a rational basis for the General Assembly's decision to delay the effective date of Senate Bill 10. Nowhere is there any mention or suggestion that a delay in the effective date is necessary to, for example, change forms in county clerks' offices to allow for an orderly transition to the new law. Indeed, the only reason the parties have cited for the delay is the functioning of the state's logistical process of passing a law."

However, Durkin noted that his order is limited to Gray and Ewert's case, and does not constitute a ruling that the current Illinois law is facially unconstitutional.

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