ROCKFORD, Ill. (CBS) — A woman who has been fighting for the right to marry her partner of 38 years is considering an appeal of a Winnebago County judge’s order denying her that right, because her partner is in a vegetative state.

“It’s simultaneously heart-wrenching to see, but it’s also kind of a true love story at the same time,” said attorney Nathan Reyes, who is representing 58-year-old Colette Purifoy.

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WBBM Newsradio’s Steve Miller reports Purifoy wants to marry 63-year-old John Morris, who suffered a brain injury four years ago.

“This is a new area of law that’s arisen,” Reyes said.

Morris is in a vegetative state and cannot sign the papers to get married, but Reyes said the couple had planned to marry before he suffered brain damage.

A judge has ruled that since Morris cannot sign and consent to marriage, the couple cannot marry.

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Reyes said the couple has been together almost four decades, and Purifoy wants to marry Morris, despite his condition.

“One of the reasons is intensely personal – a gift to the man she loves. And the other reason is, the law treats them as essentially a nothing until they get married,” Reyes said.

Reyes said Purifoy is devoted to Morris.

“She has always put John first. She is at his bedside pretty much every hour of the day,” he said. “I’m sure people might think in a situation like this, oh – she must be doing it for some sort of massive amount of money that’s hiding in the shadows. There’s nothing like that.”

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Reyes said allowing the marriage would give Purifoy legal standing as Morris’ partner, after 38 years together.