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Dying Chicago lesbian gets judge's OK to wed ahead of new law

Vernita Gray (L) and Pat Ewert kiss after their Civil Union ceremony in Chicago, in this file photo from June 2, 2011. REUTERS/John Gress
Vernita Gray (L) and Pat Ewert kiss after their Civil Union ceremony in Chicago, in this file photo from June 2, 2011. REUTERS/John Gress

By Mary Wisniewski

CHICAGO (Reuters) - A Chicago woman who is dying of cancer could wed her lesbian partner as early as Wednesday after a federal judge ordered local officials to issue them a marriage license six months before an Illinois law recognizing gay unions takes effect.

The cancer patient, Vernita Gray, 64, and her partner, Patricia Ewert, 65, had argued in a lawsuit filed in federal court that a state law passed last week allowing same-sex marriages discriminates against them because it would prevent them from getting married before Gray's death.

Gray suffers from breast cancer, which has spread to her bones and her brain. She may have only weeks to live, the couple said.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin ordered the Cook County clerk's office to issue the couple a marriage license, which was delivered to their home on Monday night, said Jim Scalzitti, a spokesman for County Clerk David Orr.

"I'm excited to be able to marry and take care of Pat, my partner and my family, should I pass," said Gray in a statement. The couple has been together for five years.

Illinois last week became the 16th state to recognize same-sex marriages, starting on June 1, 2014. That was the latest in a series of gay rights victories, as Hawaii earlier in the month approved gay marriages and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in October dropped his appeal of a court ruling that legalized same-sex nuptials.

Orr, who supports gay marriage, did not contest the suit.

The two women could marry as early as Wednesday, said Eric Roldan, a spokesman for Lambda Legal Illinois, a legal group that advocates for gay rights.

"It all depends on how Vernita's feeling," said Roldan. "They are looking to do this as soon as possible."

He said the judge's decision applies only to this couple, though it is possible Lambda could hear from other couples in a similar situation.

Ewert and Gray were among the first Illinois couples to be joined in a civil union, made legal in Illinois in June of 2011, the suit said. They also have exchanged vows in a religious ceremony.

(Reporting by Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Scott Malone and Gunna Dickson)

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