A woman who was a long time gay rights activist and part of the first same-sex couple to marry in the US state of Illinois, has died.

Vernita Gray, 65, died on Tuesday evening after a long battle with breast cancer.

She and her wife Patricia were granted a marriage licence early because of Gray’s illness, allowing the couple to marry before the effective date of Illinois’ equal marriage law.

The act also allowed Cook County residents, followed by those in other counties, to marry earlier than the 1 June date, because there was no appeal made against the new law.

The pair married in November after being together for over five years. They had entered into a civil union in 2011.

Family friend Jim Bennett, said Gray died in the home in which she married Patricia, and that she had always passionately fought for gay rights.

“She would work very hard from the inside to get people to be more inclusive, more diverse and push harder,” he said. “She wanted change to happen fast.”

Funeral services are currently being planned.