Vernita Gray, one half of Illinois' first same-sex couple to legally marry in the state, died early Wednesday after a long fight with cancer.
She was 65.
Gray and her wife, Pat Ewert, had been visited by family and friends in recent weeks, according to the Windy City Times, which first reported her passing.
Gray and Ewert were legally married in November after winning a court battle to expedite their marriage.
"They truly loved each other and they were willing to step out front so that other people would have the same access and rights that so many people have," said Gray's longtime friend, Mary Morten.
Gov. Pat Quinn just a week earlier had signed the bill allowing same sex marriage into law but it wasn't slated to take effect until June 1, 2014. U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Durkin ordered the Cook County Clerk's office to grant the couple's license early because of Gray's failing health.
- Feb. 21: Judge: Gay Marriages Don't Have to Wait Until June
- March 4: AG Madigan Gives County Clerks Gay Marriage Green Light
"I was stunned, and I'm still stunned," Gray said after the court victory. "It's like Christmas, my birthday, the tooth fairy all rolled into one."
In a statement, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Gray was a "fearless woman who spent her life fighting for equality."
"Vernita Gray was an inspiration to all who crossed her path, from President Obama who knew her by name to the victims of violence she comforted and the young people for whom she was a fierce advocate," he 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."
A federal judge last month said there was no reason same-sex couples needed to wait until June, prompting clerks in several Illinois counties to begin issuing marriage licenses.
Gray, a longtime employee of the Cook County State's Attorney's Office, was first diagnosed with brain and bone cancer in 1996 and her relationship with Ewert spanned more than five years.
"Goodbye my beautiful and fierce friend," State Rep. Kelly Cassidy (14th) wrote in a Facebook post. "You lived your life fully and honestly and loved more generously than anyone I've ever known. Thank you. Blessings and peace to Pat and everyone who held V in their hearts."
The Windy City Times report offers a comprehensive look at Gray's years of LGBT activism.