Why Illinois Same-Sex Couple Gets to Wed Before Marriage Law Takes Effect

PHOTO: Vernita Gray, left, and Patricia Ewert pose for a photo after their civil union ceremony in Chicago, June 2, 2011.John Gress/Reuters
Vernita Gray, left, and Patricia Ewert pose for a photo after their civil union ceremony in Chicago, June 2, 2011.

Sometime this week, when Vernita Gray feels well enough after her latest round of chemotherapy, she will marry her partner -- a full seven months before other same-sex couples in Illinois are afforded the right.

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Gray, 64, is battling breast cancer that has metastasized to her bones and brain. Her dying wish, her attorney said, was to marry her partner of five years, Patricia Ewert, 65.

"The medical situation they're facing makes it unlikely they will have the freedom to marry if they have to wait," Christopher Clark, senior staff attorney at Lambda Legal, which represented the couple, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, told ABCNews.com.

Gray and Ewert filed a federal lawsuit on Friday asking that they be issued an emergency marriage license from the Cook County Clerk's Office, seven months before June 1, 2014, when Illinois' same-sex marriage law goes into effect.

When Gray's final decline happens, it will "be swift, and she may have only days or weeks left to live as of the date of filing this complaint," the lawsuit said.

On Monday, a federal judge ordered the Cook County clerk to immediately issue them a license.

"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 said in a statement the same day she underwent another round of chemotherapy to fight her cancer.

Cook County Clerk David Orr said he was thrilled to "at long last" be able to issue the couple a marriage license.

"While we celebrate this historic milestone and wish them much happiness, the event is bittersweet and demonstrates that gay and lesbian couples have already waited too long for marriage equality," he wrote in a statement to ABCNews.com.

Couple 'Inseparable' Since Their First Date

Gray and Ewert, who both worked in public service, met five years ago at an event at the Cook County State Attorney's Office and fell fast for each other.

"Since they met, they have been truly inseparable. It's a great love story," Clark said.

The couple, who entered into a civil union in 2011, have truly been together in sickness and in health.

In June, Gray was taken to the hospital in an ambulance where she learned the cancer she had been battling off and on since 1998 had spread to her brain.

She underwent surgery to remove a golf ball-size tumor from her cerebellum, but has had to relearn everyday activities, such as walking and reading.

This week, when Gray feels well enough, Clark said the couple would have a wedding -- likely a small, intimate affair, he said.

"It could not have come at a better time, Thanksgiving week," he said. "It's really something to be thankful for."