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Hundreds of religious leaders back Illinois marriage equality bill

By Tony Merevick| Chicago Phoenix
Sunday, December 23, 2012
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As lawmakers, coalitions and activists prepare for a potential vote early next month on legislation that would legalize same-sex marriage in Illinois, even more support for the bill has arrived from the local religious community.

Over 200 faith leaders and clergy members from across Illinois — many in Chicago — said Sunday they fully support the bill, which would grant full marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples as well as give religious institutions the ability to opt out of recognizing and ordaining those marriages.

With the holiday around the corner, the religious leaders — together as a coalition — expressed their support in a open letter to state legislators and urged them to vote in favor of the bill, the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act.

“We dedicate our lives to fostering faith and compassion, and we work daily to promote justice and fairness for all,” the coalition stated in the letter. “Standing on these beliefs, we think that it is morally just to grant equal opportunities and responsibilities to loving, committed same-sex couples. There can be no justification for the law treating people differently on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.”

The clergy also highlighted how the bill guards the rights of religious institutions in the sense that it does not require to perform a marriage or union which goes against its beliefs.

“There are differences among our many religious traditions,” the clergy wrote. “Some recognize and bless same-sex unions, and some do not. The important thing is that the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act protects religious freedom and guarantees that all faiths will decide which marriages should be consecrated and solemnized within their tradition.”

Last week, the chief sponsors of the bill, Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago) and Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) said they are close to securing enough support to bring the bill up for vote during the legislature’s lame duck session, beginning Jan. 2.

The bill needs at least 60 votes in the House and 30 votes in the Senate before moving to Gov. Pat Quinn’s desk. Quinn indicated he will sign the bill into law and also urged lawmakers to vote in favor of it.

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On Thursday, local same-sex marriage advocates announced the formation of a coalition of organizations that will work to pass the bill early next year. Lambda Legal, the ACLU of Illinois and Equality Illinois are the three founding members of the marriage equality coalition titled Illinois Unites for Marriage.

Illinois polls show an upswing in support for same-sex marriage among voters, including a September poll by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University, which showed a 10-point increase in support for marriage equality among Illinoisans.

More data from the poll shows a majority of Illinois Catholics approve of gay and lesbian unions, and the percentage of Catholics who support full marriage equality is just below the state in general, at about 40 percent and 44 percent, respectively.

However, not all religious organizations support gay marriage. Another coalition of organizations announced last week that it will fight the marriage equality bill by lobbying legislators to vote against it.

Another poll by Public Policy Polling indicate the majority of Illinois Hispanic and black voters support for same-sex marriage. Seventy percent of Hispanic voters and 60 percent of African-American voters support legalizing same-sex marriage, according to the poll.

Nine states and the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriages. Three states — Washington, Maine and Maryland — approved same-sex marriage ballot measure in the November elections.

The Civil Rights Agenda, a Chicag0-based LGBT rights and policy group launched an online petition to support the bill last week.

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