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Gay Rights Activist Vernita Gray Passes Away

Vernita Gray, the gay rights activist who spent decades fighting for equality, passed away on Tuesday following a battle with bone and brain cancer.

The Associated Press reports:

Vernita Gray, a gay rights activist who wed her partner in Illinois' first same-sex marriage, has died at age 65.

Gray died late Tuesday of cancer at the same Chicago home where she married Patricia Ewert in late November, family friend Jim Bennett told The Associated Press. Bennett was among friends who were gathered at the home when Gray died.

Gray's failing health and her wish to marry persuaded a federal judge to order that an expedited marriage license be granted to the couple ahead of the June 1 effective date of the state's gay marriage law. A subsequent judge's ruling then paved the way for more same-sex couples to marry early in some Illinois counties.

Gray worked for gay rights for decades, advocating for same-sex marriage long before many other activists saw it as a possibility, Bennett said. To win over conservatives, she made the case that her Social Security survivor benefits should go to her partner, and her knack for working with people across the political spectrum "made everyone feel that they had a unique contribution to move us forward," Bennett said.

Gray's contributions to the LGBT equality movement both in Illinois and beyond cannot be overstated.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel says:

Vernita Gray was an inspiration to all who crossed her path, from President (Barack) Obama, who knew her by name, to the victims of violence she comforted and the young people for whom she was a fierce advocate," Emanuel said. "Her legacy can be felt in the many institutions she supported and by every LGBT couple in Illinois who is now free to marry the person they love."

We send our condolences to her family and friends and we hope that there's comfort in the fact that she died legally married to the woman she loved and as a fully recognized citizen in her state.