Of all the things you might be grateful for this year, few can compare to one same-sex couple from Illinois who have been told they can get married despite Illinois’ marriage equality law not coming into force until June of next year. This Thanksgiving gift, though, is tinged with sadness.
US District Judge Thomas Durkin has signed a temporary restraining order against Cook County Clerk David Orr — acting in his official capacity as defendant in this case — instructing him to grant a marriage license to couple Vernita Gray and Patricia Ewert so they can marry within the next few weeks. Gray was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1996. Unfortunately, that cancer has spread and her illness is now terminal.
In 2011, the couple were one of the first to take advantage of Illinois’ civil unions law, but now want to marry. Govern Pat Quinn last week signed hard won legislation granting marriage equality rights to same-sex couples. The law is set to come into force on June 1.
Gray’s case was filed on Friday with assistance from the ACLU and Lambda Legal who asked for emergency relief on grounds that Gray may have only weeks to live. Judge Durkin agreed that emergency relief is indeed warranted, issuing an order saying:
“Defendant is ordered to issue a marriage license to Plaintiffs upon their application and satisfaction of all legal requirements for a marriage in Cook County except for the requirement that they be of different sexes, and Defendant is ordered to register their solemnized marriage as is presently required for all other marriages.”
The judge also wrote that the order will end on December 9 unless an extension is sought.
County Clerk David Orr, who is a supporter of marriage equality, will not challenge the order and has issued a statement, reportedly saying: “My office will comply with the judge’s orders and expedite a marriage license to this couple – a service already granted to heterosexual couples in similar situations.”
While the ACLU and Lambda Legal have both welcomed the judge’s decision, the couple’s attorney, Camilla Taylor, has pointed out that this case shows how damaging this kind of deferring of equal rights can be: “This case illustrates the cruelty of the wait before the marriage law goes into effect, and it’s wonderful to give them relief and the understanding of what it is to be married before it’s too late.”
The couple is said to be planning a wedding date within the next week. They greeted the news with delight, with Gray quoted as saying: “I have two cancers, bone and brain and I just had chemo today — I am so happy to get this news. I’m excited to be able to marry and take care of Pat, my partner and my family, should I pass.”
Gray is said to have been particularly concerned about ensuring her partner has access to the full range of survivor benefits and protections that state and federal recognition of marriage brings, ensuring that Ewert for instance will not be landed with a high estate inheritance bill after Gray’s passing. Their marriage also ensures that their relationship status as spouses is unambiguous in the eyes of the law and prevents any complications should, for instance, Gray require emergency medical care and be taken to a hospital that is unfamiliar to them both — this providing peace of mind when stories of same-sex partners being denied access to their partners are still, sadly, quite common.
In a wider sense, this story also offers a commentary on how vital marriage rights are to many same-sex couples, not just to have their marriages recognized for moral reasons, but in practical legal terms as well.
Photo credit: Thinkstock.