Vernita Gray, Illinois Gay Rights Advocate, Dies

One half of the first same-sex couple to marry in Illinois has died at age 65.

Posted: 03/19/2014 12:27 PM EDT

CHICAGO (AP) — A gay rights activist, who was one half of the first same-sex couple to marry in Illinois, has died at age 65.

Family friend Jim Bennett says Vernita Gray died late Tuesday of cancer at the same Chicago home where she married Patricia Ewert in late November.

An expedited marriage license was granted to the couple because of Gray's failing health. That allowed them to wed ahead of the June 1 effective date of the state's same-sex marriage law.

Their wedding and a judge's ruling paved the way for more same-sex couples to marry early in some Illinois counties.

Bennett says Gray advocated for same-sex marriage long before many gay rights activists saw it as a possibility, and she had a knack for working with people across the political spectrum.

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 (Photo: AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)

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