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Judge OKs Illinois same-sex marriages in cases of life-threatening illnesses

Monday, December 16, 2013

CHICAGO — Gay couples who want to wed immediately in Illinois because one partner has a life-threatening illness could do so starting Monday – rather than waiting until the state’s same-sex law takes effect in June – after a U.S. judge broadened the medical exception statewide.

U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman’s final order on the matter, issued at a hearing in Chicago on Monday, comes in the wake of another judge’s recent ruling allowing a lesbian couple to get married last month in Illinois because one of the women is terminally ill.

Photos: Charles Rex Arbogast, APPatricia Ewert, left, and Vernita Gray, right, stand before Cook County Judge Patricia Logue, center, as she presides over their wedding ceremony.

Photos: Charles Rex Arbogast, AP
Patricia Ewert, left, and Vernita Gray, right, stand before Cook County Judge Patricia Logue, center, as she presides over their wedding ceremony in Illinois last month.

Coleman’s rulings in the class-action lawsuit means any couple in Illinois can apply to marry right away – via the Cook County clerk’s office – if they can provide a doctor’s note confirming one partner is terminally ill.

The four couples named as plaintiffs, all of whom are from Cook County, include Elvie Jordan and Challis Gibbs, who recently entered a civil union. Gibbs has cancer and may not live until June, according to the complaint.

“When I die, I want Elvie to be able to say, ‘I lost my wife.’ I don’t want her to have to say, ‘I lost my civil union partner,’” it quotes Gibbs as saying.

Gay rights advocates welcomed Coleman’s decision, saying it could result in dozens of gay couples marrying soon. Illinois is the 16th state to legalize gay marriage, but the same-sex law doesn’t take effect until June 1.

“Marriage means so much to them,” Camilla B. Taylor, one of several plaintiffs’ attorneys, said on Monday. “To know they will get their own measure of joy is a great joy.”

Several couples with one ailing partner have previously secured marriage licenses. But, until this week, they first had to seek a judge’s order. With Coleman’s decision, that’s no longer the case, said Ed Yohnka, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois.

“For these couples to be able to wed now, without having to go to court and reveal det ails about the medical condition, is really important,” he said.

Last month, U.S. District Judge Thomas M. Durkin issued an order permitting Vernita Gray – who has cancer – to wed Patricia Ewert. They became the first gay couple to wed under Illinois’ new law.

Couples living outside Cook County must apply through the Cook County’s clerk’s office and marry in Cook County, because it was the subject of the lawsuit, said James Scalzitti a spokesman for the office. The marriages would be valid throughout the state.

“This Court can conceive of no reason why the public interest would be disserved by allowing a few couples facing terminal illness to wed a few months earlier than the timeline would currently allow,” Coleman wrote in an opinion posted last week and preceding final orders.

Barring the couples from marrying would unfairly deprive the surviving partner benefits, including estate tax obligations, she said.

“Equally compelling are the intangible personal and emotional benefits that the dignity of equal and official marriage status confers,” she wrote.

Cook County Clerk David Orr has long supported same-sex marriage and, even though he and his office were named as defendants, he supported the plaintiffs. He sought guidance, however, on how to determine which couples qualified for the exception.

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.

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20 more reader comments:

  1. What if we are engaged and one dies in a car accident before June? Don’t you think we all should have the same right

    Posted on Monday, December 16, 2013 at 9:03pm
  2. we do but the law take effect for some reason in june and they are trying to speed it up....but for someone who is terminally ill they may not have til JUNE

    Replied on Monday, December 16, 2013 at 11:13pm
  3. Nice judge….idiot what a horrible way to treat people……

    Posted on Monday, December 16, 2013 at 9:04pm
  4. I wonder if “death” can be considered life-threatening. Because everyone gets that. eventually.

    Posted on Monday, December 16, 2013 at 9:05pm
  5. This is a step further.

    Posted on Monday, December 16, 2013 at 9:07pm
  6. Wow So we only have to be dying to be equal. Sounds fair.

    Posted on Monday, December 16, 2013 at 9:09pm
  7. Wow

    Posted on Monday, December 16, 2013 at 9:21pm
  8. Woohoo Illinois

    Posted on Monday, December 16, 2013 at 9:21pm
  9. this sounds a pity the poor queer tactic…bull…equality for all!

    Posted on Monday, December 16, 2013 at 9:22pm
  10. So, one of them has to be dying and then they’ll concede? How generous…. :(

    Posted on Monday, December 16, 2013 at 9:32pm
  11. Ppl are 4getting about Topeka ks…. Bc me and my girl can’t get married here

    Posted on Monday, December 16, 2013 at 9:34pm
  12. This is B.S. Why not just enact the already signed bill into law…FOR EVERYONE? Accidents happen, but since we don’t have cancer, et al, we have to wait. And what about folks with HIV/AIDS? That is technically a terminal condition, albeit “manageable/treatable”, but it’s still terminal by definition.

    Posted on Monday, December 16, 2013 at 9:47pm
  13. I’m so proud to live in Illinois.

    Posted on Monday, December 16, 2013 at 9:57pm
  14. thank u judge!

    Posted on Monday, December 16, 2013 at 11:12pm
  15. Well I guess this is SOME progress… Better than nothing I suppose…

    Posted on Monday, December 16, 2013 at 11:23pm
  16. Still fucked up nonetheless

    Replied on Monday, December 16, 2013 at 11:23pm
  17. Very happy for this couple…however I’m extremely infuriated that the ONLY reason they are able to be married…is because one of them is going to die soon! That’s not OK! It shouldn’t matter, they want to get married, they should be allowed no matter what! We are all people here! People marring people. OK, my rant is over. Congratulations to them. :) I am extremely happy for them and their families!

    Posted on Monday, December 16, 2013 at 11:46pm
  18. A comment earlier in the thread got me ranting again.... life in general is terminal. The fact that this is still an issue in this day in age is absurd to me! If somebody wants to marry the person they love they should able to.

    Replied on Monday, December 16, 2013 at 11:49pm
  19. Such a shame, one of them has to be dying to have a dream come true….breaks my heart and pisses me off. Especially when you look at how well heterosexual couples do marriage….can you say Britney Spears 55 hour marriage, or Kim Kardashian 4 month marriage? Yeah, they can get married on a whim and then there are couples who have to be dying to enjoy the same privilege. Something is very wrong…

    Posted on Tuesday, December 17, 2013 at 12:46am
  20. Matt Svec Mary Anton

    Posted on Tuesday, December 17, 2013 at 1:18am