Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and Representative Brad Schneider on Sunday applauded the start of a law allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry in Illinois.

Quinn, a Democrat, signed the Religious Freedom and Marriage Act – which went into effect on Sunday – on November 20.

The law's official start is being eclipsed by a federal judge's February ruling which opened the door to marriage equality in 15 counties, including Illinois' largest county, Cook County.

(Related: Illinois gay marriage law takes effect Sunday.)

“Starting now, everyone in Illinois may receive the long-overdue rights of marriage,” Quinn wrote in an op-ed published Sunday in the Windy City Times. “Advocates had to jump hurdles, leap fences and penetrate walls to make it happen, but we arrived at our destination.”

Quinn added that on this day he was thinking of the late Vernita Gray, the gay rights advocate who was the first to marry in the state.

“One person who made this day possible was Vernita Gray. A tenacious activist, Vernita was loved in the community and respected by politicians. She and her partner made history when a judge ruled that, due to Vernita's declining health, they could marry late last year – ahead of today's effective date. Vernita passed away in March with her new wife Pat [Ewert] by her side.”

“So today, I'll think of Vernita Gray and others unable to witness this day. I'll think of happy couples embarking on the adventure of marriage. And I will be proud to live in a state where the will of the people can become the law of the land,” Quinn added.

Schneider, also a Democrat, echoed similar sentiments in a statement: “I’m proud that today, at last, all loving couples in Illinois can share in the joys and responsibilities of marriage. This was a hard-fought and landmark victory for the cause of equality. I’ll continue fighting until all loving couples, not just in Illinois but across the country, can marry and make a life together. No matter who you are, you deserve the right to make a public, loving commitment called 'marriage.'”