Half of the first gay couple to wed in Illinois

Tribune reporter

A longtime gay rights advocate most recently known for being part of the first gay couple to wed in Illinois died Tuesday night, friends said.

Vernita Gray, 65, died just before midnight at her Edgewater Beach home after a long battle with breast cancer, said longtime friend Jim Bennett. She had been in hospice care for three weeks and, when she died, was surrounded by her spouse, mother and other friends and family.

Gray and Patricia Ewert were married in November after filing a lawsuit in U.S. District Court arguing they should be granted the right to marry immediately, months before the effective date of the state law legalizing gay marriage. They had been in a committed relationship for more than five years and, in 2011, entered into a civil union.

The act also opened the door for a federal ruling issued in February that allowed all gay couples in Cook County to receive marriage licenses before the June 1 effective date of the law.

Gray died in the same home she and Ewert were married, Bennett said.  Bennett said Gray was a passionate advocate for gay rights, who would talk about the issues in a common sense manner, with humor and persistence.

“She would work very hard from the inside to get people to be more inclusive, more diverse and push harder,” Bennett said. “She wanted change to happen fast.”

Services are being planned.







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