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Journalist Ron Dorfman dies

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Longtime journalist and gay advocate Ron Dorfman, who, along with his partner of 20 years were among the first same-sex couples legally married in Illinois, died Feb. 10. Dorfman had heart disease, and his was among the marriages the courts allowed early due to medical reasons.

Dorfman and Ken Ilio were married in December and held a wedding reception for family and friends Jan. 10. The wedding was featured in the Feb. 5 Windy City Times marriage guide, where Dorfman wrote about his own thoughts on the event.

Dorfman and Ilio met at the AIDS Foundation of Chicago's "Not Just Song & Dance" gala in 1994, and ended up living the rest of their lives together.

They were seated at the same table, danced a few times, found each other interesting, and after dinner Dorfman drove Ilio to his home in East Lakeview. Neither had anything to write with, so Dorfman said he would contact their table host on Monday to get Ilio's phone number and make a date.

"That was a Saturday night," Dorfman told the 90 guests assembled at Phil Stefani's, 437 N. Rush. "Early Sunday afternoon, my phone rang." Ilio, a speed reader, had only a first name and a numberless street address to go on, but went methodically through the White Pages until he found a Ron on Sheridan Road. "Fortunately," Dorfman said, "I was in the D's and not the W's." The pair have rarely been apart since.

Dorfman, 73, and Ilio, 57, were married Dec. 13 in the chapel at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where Dorfman was being prepared for major heart surgery.

The ceremony was officiated by hospital chaplain Barbara Zeman, a priest who initially was reluctant to unite "a lapsed Jew with a lapsed Catholic," but was quickly won over.

The wedding took place four days after U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman issued her first ruling in a class action brought by Lambda Legal and the ACLU with pro-bono counsel from Kirkland & Ellis and Miller Shakman & Beem. In that ruling, Judge Coleman ordered Cook County Clerk David Orr to issue marriage licenses immediately to Dorfman and Ilio and another couple ( Elvie Jordan and Challis Gibbs ) facing a life-threatening illness before the scheduled June 1 start date of legal same-sex marriage in Illinois.

That was what Orr wanted to do in the first place, so there were no disgruntled parties in the case, and an underlying class action continues that may strike down the June 1 date for all same-sex couples in Illinois regardless of health issues.

In response to Dorfman's passing, Camilla Taylor, Marriage Project Director for Lambda Legal, issued the following statement: "Our hearts go out to Mr. Ilio for his loss. It was an honor to represent both Mr. Dorfman and Mr. Ilio in their struggle to marry before it became too late. Mr. Dorfman fought for justice and for his love for Mr. Ilio even as he was dying. With his courage, he showed us all the depth of what it means to love, and how important it is for all of us to have the freedom to marry. Through his struggle and his willingness to stand up for others, he achieved the freedom to marry not only for himself but for all other same-sex couples in Illinois facing terminal illness."

Dorfman was a retired writer and editor whose work has occasionally appeared in Windy City Times, and Ilio, after a career in basic biomedical research, is now teaching high school biology and pursuing extracurricular interests in photography and Filipino cookery. Dorfman also was co-founder of the Chicago Journalism Review, and later worked at labor and other publications.

The couple had registered as domestic partners in Cook County shortly after County Clerk Orr instituted that program in 2003, but never bothered to file for Illinois civil union status. "It would have made no material or meaningful difference to us," Dorfman had said, "because we've really been 'married' for 20 years. But with legal marriage, I know that Ken will have the spousal benefits of federal law for Social Security, inheritance, taxes, and all the other rights that surviving partners have to support their households. It's a great comfort."

See related story and photos at the link: .

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