Ken Yerro Ilio, one of the two first gay men to marry in Illinois, has died at 63

He and Ron Dorfman got married in December 2013 in a ceremony that was expedited because of concerns about Dorfman’s health.

SHARE Ken Yerro Ilio, one of the two first gay men to marry in Illinois, has died at 63
Ken Yerro Ilio, seen here, and his husband Ron Dorfman were the first gay men to get married in Illinois.

Ken Yerro Ilio, seen here, and his husband Ron Dorfman were the first gay men to get married in Illinois.

Vicki Quade

Ken Ilio, one of the two first gay men to marry in Illinois, has died at 63.

Mr. Ilio and Ron Dorfman got married in December 2013 in a ceremony that was moved up because of concerns about the health of Dorfman, who wasn’t expected to live long enough to see same-sex marriage become legal in Illinois in June 2014. Dorfman died about two months after exchanging vows with Mr. Ilio.

They were the second same-sex couple to marry in Illinois. Patricia Ewert and Vernita Gray were married a few weeks earlier in a ceremony that similarly had been pushed up because Gray had cancer.

Mr. Ilio was found collapsed at his computer Wednesday evening in his Edgewater condo, according to friends and relatives. He’d been undergoing dialysis for kidney failure.

“They tried to resuscitate him for an hour,” said his cousin Jena Yerro-Molo, but he was pronounced dead at Weiss Memorial Hospital.

Ken Ilio (right) and husband Ron Dorfman.

Ken Ilio (right) and husband Ron Dorfman.

Vicki Quade

He and Dorfman, a journalist, were together for more than 20 years.

“They really fit each other well,” said playwright Vicki Quade, a friend.

At parties, they circulated but always remained close to each other.

“That magnetism was there,” Quade said. When they dined out, “They would be pushing food toward each other.

“There was a real caring between them,” Quade said. After Dorfman died, “There was always a bit of melancholy about him.”

Ken Ilio (left) and Ron Dorfman in front of photos of themselves as young men.

Ken Ilio (left) and Ron Dorfman in front of photos of themselves as young men.

Provided

Their marriage was accelerated when Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union filed litigation to hasten ceremonies for couples with serious medical conditions, said ACLU Illinois spokesman Edwin Yohnka. Cook County Clerk David Orr also helped expedite their license.

“Making the promise of the freedom to marry a reality for Ken and Ron before Illinois’ marriage law had gone into effect, given Ron’s imminent passing, was an important part of the movement in Illinois,” said John Knight, director of the LGBT and HIV Project of ACLU Illinois. “It would have been cruel if this couple was denied the personal and emotional benefits of being married simply because of the effective date of the new law. Ken and Ron fought to end an unjust barrier before it was too late for them and others like them.”

Their wedding officiant, Barbara Zeman, said: “They were both very much a couple and really wanted to solidify who they were. I was touched by Ken’s caring nature for Ron. It was important for both of them to have this union to mark their love for each other.”

Mr. Ilio “was a brave man whose love and commitment to marry his longtime partner Ron Dorfman was an inspiration to all of us,” said Camilla B. Taylor of Constitutional Litigation for Lambda Legal. “By stepping forward and demanding to marry each other while they still had time together as Ron’s health failed, they opened the door for others fighting terminal illness to marry as well even though Illinois law at that time did not permit same-sex couples to marry, and marriage legislation would not take effect for many months.”

Mr. Ilio and his husband had many friends and enjoyed nights at Riccardo’s saloon and dining at Hon Kee restaurant.

“He was very gregarious and social,” said Mr. Ilio’s brother Dennis.

They held a popular annual Kentucky Derby party at their condo, filled with vibrant art and “rise up” political posters, according to Quade.

Mr. Ilio was born in Quezon City in the Philippines, the son of Dominador and Clotilde Ilio. His mother taught elementary school. His father was an engineering professor at the University of the Philippines.

Mr. Ilio earned multiple degrees and continued to reinvent himself professionally. His brother said he got a doctor of veterinary medicine degree at the University of the Philippines and a master’s in veterinary anatomy at Massey University in New Zealand. He obtained a doctorate in reproductive biology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, according to his LinkedIn page.

Mr. Ilio did urology research at Northwestern University and Stroger Hospital, friends and relatives said. He taught science classes at Columbia College Chicago. At his last job, he helped with biology instruction at a Hammond-area charter high school, they said.

He stayed close with relatives and friends through his hobby, photography. A gifted photographer, he took beautiful shots of the city and people of Chicago and gave his pictures to loved ones.

Ken Ilio was a gifted photographer. He’s preparing here to take photos at the wedding of friends.

Ken Ilio was a gifted photographer. He’s preparing here to take photos at the wedding of friends.

Vicki Quade

Ken Ilio (third from right) and other photographers in a 2009 shot of the Chicago Photography Collective.

Ken Ilio (third from right) and other photographers in a 2009 shot of the Chicago Photography Collective.

Al Podgorski / Sun-Times file

He also connected many people from the Filipino diaspora by creating content relating to the Philippines for websites, according to his brother.

“He was a very talented photographer and a very kind and gentle human being,” said his friend Rob Martinez.

Ken Ilio at a Chicago Market Days celebration.

Ken Ilio at a Chicago Market Days celebration

Vicki Quade

In addition to his brother Dennis and cousin Jena, he is survived by another brother, Dominador Jr. Funeral arrangements are pending.

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