Cook County to issue 10,000th same-sex marriage license

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Pat Ewert and her late wife, Vernita Gray, received the first same-sex marriage license in Cook County. | Jacob Wittich/Sun-Times

By the end of Brian Johnson’s first date with Toby, he knew that he met the person he would probably spend the rest of his life with — except that same-sex marriage was not legal at the time.

Three years later, the CEO of Equality Illinois is happily married to his partner and proud of the progress made in Illinois toward same-sex marriage rights.

“When Toby and I began falling in love, the right to be legally married was not an option,” Johnson said during a news conference Monday at Cook County Clerk David Orr’s office. “It fills me with such pride in Illinois that we are the last wave of married couples to face that.”

He and his partner were the 9,191st same-sex couple to be issued a marriage license in Cook County when they married in May. Orr expects this week to hit a milestone of 10,000 marriage licenses for same-sex couples since February 2014, when Cook County first started issuing same-sex marriage licenses.

As of Monday, 9,987 marriage licenses had been issued to same-sex couples in Cook County.

“The struggle for social justice is often long and painful, and the LGBT activists have been fighting for equality for a long time,” Orr said. “This is a historic marriage equality milestone.”

Orr was joined by legislative leaders, civil rights activists and married same-sex couples to draw attention to the milestone as well as celebrate marriage equality and remember the challenges they overcame to achieve it.

Cook County began issuing same-sex marriage licenses in February 2014 when a federal judge in Chicago ruled it did not have to wait until the law making same-sex marriage legal statewide took effect on June 1, 2014.

Pat Ewert and her now-deceased wife, Vernita Gray, were the first same-sex couple to marry in Cook County after a court ruled in November 2013 that they could marry early because Gray had a terminal illness.

“Vernita used to say that in the 40-plus years that she was out, in the very beginning, the words ‘gay’ and ‘marriage’ were never used in the same sentence,” Ewert said. “Now look what we’ve accomplished today.”

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