By Sophia Tareen
CHICAGO: In a short ceremony inside their Chicago apartment, two beaming brides made Illinois history Wednesday as they became the first gay couple to wed under the state’s new law legalizing same-sex marriage.
The law approved last week doesn’t go into effect until June, but one of the women — Vernita Gray — is terminally ill with cancer, so she and her partner of five years, Patricia Ewert, were granted an expedited marriage license by a federal judge’s order.
The two made it official Wednesday in front of more than 20 friends at their high-rise home on the city’s North Side. A Cook County judge officiated, and a close friend who deemed himself the “flower girl” tossed red rose petals and the couple kissed several times.
They were pronounced wife and wife.
“So happy, so incredibly happy,” Ewert told the Associated Press after the wedding. “We feel so blessed to have this honor bestowed upon us. I love my partner, my wife now, more every single day.”
When Illinois legalized gay marriage earlier this month, it was bittersweet for the couple, in their mid-60s. They feared that Gray might not live until the law would allow them to wed. They filed a lawsuit, and a federal judge allowed the two women, in their mid-60s, to get an expedited marriage license.
The mood was cheerful and festive Wednesday; Ewert wore a leopard print shawl that belonged to Gray’s mother and Gray donned a dark silky jacket. A friend sang Etta James’ At Last. The couple signed papers at the ceremony that was attended by many of the city’s gay rights activists; Gray has long been involved in the movement.
“Vernita goes back in our community. Everyone feels a friendship with her,” said Jim Bennett, the “flower girl” and a regional director for Lambda Legal, the group that helped represent the women in court. “That Vernita helped be the pioneer that leads us to this path was the icing on the wedding cake.”
Their legal battle could be just the beginning and may fuel efforts to change the effective date of the law, which Gov. Pat Quinn signed last week. Sixteen states, most recently Illinois and Hawaii, have legalized same-sex marriage. In Illinois, there’s legislation pending to allow the law to take effect immediately, and it could come up in late January when lawmakers gather in Springfield.
Quinn said if lawmakers sent him that bill, he’d sign it.