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Ill. Republicans who backed gay nuptials triumph in primaries

Republican Party, Illinois, Illinois General Assembly, Ron Sandack, Ed Sullivan Jr., Tom Cross, Judy Baar Topinka, gay news, Washington Blade

From left, Ill. state Representatives Ron Sandack (R-Bolingbrook), Ed Sullivan, Jr. (R-Libertyville), Tom Cross (R-Plainfield) and Ill. state Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka each won their Republican primaries. (Photos public domain)

Republican officials in Illinois who supported marriage equality won their primaries across the board this week — a development that LGBT rights supporters say demonstrates growing support for marriage equality even within the Republican Party.

Jeff Cook-McCormac, senior adviser to the pro-LGBT American Unity Fund, counted four victories on Tuesday night among Republicans who supported marriage equality and said they represent a “turning point” for the party.

“These victories in Illinois demonstrate that we really are reaching a turning point, not only on the issue nationally, but we’re reaching a turning point within the Republican Party,” Cook-McCormac said. “It’s becoming safer and safer for Republican elected officials to follow their conscience, do the right thing and advance the freedom to marry.”

Each of the three Republicans who voted for marriage equality when it came before the Illinois State House in November — State Reps. Tom Cross, Ed Sullivan and Ron Sandack — faced primary challengers, but came out on top to keep their party’s nomination going into the general election.

Cross and Sullivan beat their competitors by double-digit points in the primary. Sandack scored a narrower win, defeating his opponent by 153 votes.

Additionally, Illinois State Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, who voiced support for marriage equality, didn’t face a primary challenge. She spoke at rallies in favor of marriage equality, including the ceremony in which Gov. Pat Quinn signed the marriage legislation into law.

Pat Brady, former head of the Illinois Republican Party who helped lobby for the marriage equality legislation for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, said the result “puts the issue to rest” over whether Republicans can be politically viable if they support same-sex marriage.

“The people that so loudly proclaimed that they were going to take out anybody in the Republican primary — or Democratic primary, for that matter — that voted for marriage equality turned out to be just what I thought they’d be: a bunch of paper tigers,” Brady said.

Brady, who resigned his position as party chair shortly after he announced his personal support for marriage equality, said the election results demonstrate a shift in the “political reality” of the Republican Party.

“It is a shift,” Brady said. “You can be pro-marriage equality, still be a good Republican and still win. And in a state like Illinois, to win the general election, I think it helps candidates.”

The results of the primary reflect the growing support for marriage equality nationwide — even within the Republican Party. A Washington Post/ABC News poll published earlier this month found record support for same-sex marriage and 40 percent of Republicans favor gay nuptials.

Support is particularly strong among young Republicans. A Pew Research Center poll published March 10 found 61 percent of Republicans under age 30 support same-sex marriage.

But one anti-gay group that worked to oppose the legalization of same-sex marriage in Illinois is disputing the notion the wins for Republican who voted for it represents change.

David Smith, executive director of the Illinois Family Institute, said the results are “absolutely not” a shift and instead the result of Republicans enlisting the help of Democrats to win primaries.

“It’s a very well-established fact that a lot of Democrats crossed over to vote in the Republican primary because there wasn’t a significant race for governor and for Senate on the Democratic ballot,” Smith said. “There was a quite a lot of union-plus-Democrat crossover.”

Smith also denied that wins for Republicans who voted for same-sex marriage had any wider implication of growing support for same-sex marriage within the GOP.

“I would point to the fact that the two social conservatives running for governor in a Republican primary got 59 percent of the vote together, allowing a more moderate Republican to win,” Smith said. “Obviously, social issues do matter to the majority — 60 percent or more — of Republican voters.”

But Cook-McCormac pushed back against the assertion that wins for Republicans who voted for marriage equality has no meaning, saying anti-gay groups are “running out of excuses.”

“They can create whatever excuses and draw whatever explanations that they like,” Cook-McCormac said. “The bottom line is they were out campaigned, out worked and they were out-appealed-to. Americans, and Republican voters in particular, are done with the anti-gay politics of the past and they’re ready to move forward based on the issues that unite all of us.”

The two sides nonetheless agree that marriage equality was the major issue for why these Republicans faced primary challenges. For Sandack, the candidate who came the closest to losing, anti-gay groups circulated a flier and aired TV ads displaying two men kissing (much to the consternation of Windy City Times, which has accused the groups of unlawfully stealing a photo of Sandack taken by the gay newspaper for the material).

The wins arguably represent a change from what happened with Republicans in New York who voted to legalize same-sex marriage in 2011. According to The New York Times, one faced a difficult re-election and decided not to run again, another was defeated in a primary, and the other was defeated by a Democrat in the general election because a conservative in the race drew away votes.

“It’s demonstrated that our side has got a lot better at defending our kind,” Cook-McCormac said. “As we’ve seen in Illinois, there are very smart, sophisticated strategies being put in place independently in addition to bundling direct contributions to candidates that are helping to ensure that these legislators who show courage are well-positioned to win re-election.”

The pro-gay Illinois Unity PAC raised $155,000 to assist with independent expenditure efforts on behalf of Ed Sullivan and Ron Sandack, which primarily focused on public opinion research, multiple rounds of direct mail, live operator ID and get-out-the-vote calls, a source familiar with the PAC said. On the other side, the main anti-gay independent expenditure committee, Liberty Principles PAC, spent about $220,000 just attacking Sandack, the source said.

But the wins for pro-gay Republican weren’t across the board. In a bid for the Republican nomination to represent the state’s 9th congressional district in the U.S. House, Susanne Atanus, who has blamed tornadoes and autism on gay rights and abortion, beat out her more moderate competitor, David Earl Williams III, even though the state party called on her to drop out of the race.

“God is angry. We are provoking him with abortions and same-sex marriage and civil unions,” she said during a debate. “Same-sex activity is going to increase AIDS. If it’s in our military it will weaken our military. We need to respect God.”

Cook-McCormac downplayed the significance of Atanus’ win, saying she has “zero chance” in her bid against Rep. Jan Schakowsky in the heavily Democratic district.

“It’s always embarrassing whether it’s Democrats putting up far-left candidates or Republicans putting up far-right to see those people on the ballot,” Cook-McCormac said. “But I hardly believe a candidate like that is really representative of where Republicans are.”

Wins for Illinois Republicans who supported same-sex marriage raises the question of viability in the other two states that legalized same-sex marriage through the legislative process in 2013: Minnesota and Hawaii. Both of the primaries in those states will take place in August.

State Rep. Cynthia Thielen in Hawaii is facing the threat of a primary challenger on Aug. 9, while State Rep. Jenifer Loon in Minnesota is facing the threat of a primary challenger on Aug. 12. The challengers to these lawmakers, who have no political experience, are running single-issue campaigns against the marriage equality votes.

Cook-McCormac spoke generally about the progress made on LGBT issues in the GOP when asked whether the Illinois primary results will predict the outcome of Republican primaries in Hawaii and Minnesota.

“I think that what you’re going to see is that other Republican candidates across the country who are being challenged by an increasingly small group of opponents on this issue, they’re going to have the resources they need to win, as well as the broad-based political support of Republicans who may have a diversity of opinions on the marriage issue, but who recognize that these public servants’ focus on lower taxes, smaller government, and creating more jobs is why they chose them to represent them in the first place,” Cook-McCormac said.

22
Mar
2014

Ill. legislators reintroduce same-sex marriage bills

Greg Harris, gay news, Washington Blade

Gay Illinois state Rep. Greg Harris. (Photo by Leah Jones via Wikimedia)

Illinois lawmakers on Wednesday reintroduced bills that would legalize marriage for same-sex couples in the state.

State Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago) and gay state Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) introduced the measures in their respective chambers on the first day of the 2013 legislative session.

“It is significant that Rep. Greg Harris and Sen. Heather Steans plan to use the first day of the new General Assembly to reintroduce the bills recognizing the right to marry for all Illinois couples,” Equality Illinois CEO Bernard Cherkasov said before the legislators formally introduced the same-sex marriage bills. “We expect the House and Senate to promptly pass the measure and remove the current barrier to the equal availability of civil marriage.”

The Illinois Senate Executive Committee on Jan. 3 voted 8-5 to advance a same-sex marriage measure, but lawmakers did not take up the proposal before their legislative session ended on Tuesday. President Obama, Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Illinois republican Party Chair Pat Brady are among those who have urged legislators to back the measure.

Illinois is among the handful of states that include Delaware and Rhode Island in which lawmakers are expected to consider same-sex marriage bills this year.

Nine states and D.C. currently allow gays and lesbians to tie the knot.

10
Jan
2013

Ill. House committee schedules gay marriage vote

Greg Harris, gay news, Washington Blade

Gay state Rep. Greg Harris sponsored the same-sex marriage bill in the House. (Photo by Leah Jones via Wikimedia)

The Illinois House Executive Committee on Feb. 26 will vote on a bill that would allow same-sex couples to marry in the state.

The hearing will take place less than two weeks after the state Senate approved the measure by a 34-21 margin.

President Obama, Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Illinois Republican Party Chair Pat Brady are among those who had urged legislators to support the bill. Governor Pat Quinn said he will sign it into law if it reaches his desk.

“Illinois has a role in the civil rights movement and has been consistently on the forefront of ensuring equal rights for all people throughout history,” his spokesperson, Brooke Anderson, told the Washington Blade after the state Senate approved the bill. “We just think it’s the next step in achieving equality for all. Gov. Quinn believes it’s the right thing to do.”

21
Feb
2013

Illinois GOP chair keeps job

GOP, Republican Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Republican Party logo (GOP image fair use for news)

CHICAGO—Efforts to remove Illinois Republican Party Chair Pat Brady over his support of same-sex marriage appear to have stalled.

Members of the Illinois Republican State Central Committee had scheduled a special meeting on March 9 to discuss Brady’s termination, but they abruptly cancelled it the day before. The Associated Press reported committeemen made the move in part because they did not have enough votes to oust Brady.

The Illinois House Executive Committee late last month approved a gay marriage bill that previously passed in the state Senate.

The full House of Representatives is expected to vote on the proposal in the coming days or weeks.

13
Mar
2013

Delaware Republicans reportedly seek Fluharty’s dismissal

John Fluharty, Delaware, Republican Party, GOP, gay news, Washington Blade

Delaware Republican Party Executive Director John Fluharty (Photo courtesy of John Fluharty)

A spokesperson for the Sussex County [Del.] Republican Committee on Tuesday denied a report its executive committee approved a non-binding resolution that called for the dismissal of the state GOP’s openly gay executive director over his support of same-sex marriage.

The News-Journal reported committee members approved the resolution against John Fluharty during their monthly meeting in Georgetown on Monday.

Sherwood “Duke” Brooks, spokesperson for the Sussex County Republican Committee, confirmed to the Washington Blade that committeeman Rob Arlett introduced a resolution that states the Delaware Republican Party “stands for traditional family values and all hired representatives of that organization shall publicly reflect that view.”

It does not specifically identify Fluharty.

“That was the extent of the non-binding resolution offered and voted upon in the affirmative,” he said. “To me this resolution seems analogous to the idea that if you are an executive with General Motors you don’t drive around in a Mustang or a BMW. That was the extent of it.”

The committee approved the resolution less than a month after Fluharty highlighted his personal support of nuptials for gays and lesbians during an exclusive interview with the Blade at an Equality Delaware fundraiser in Wilmington.

Fluharty declined to comment, but Brooks said the resolution has nothing to do with his sexual orientation.

“No one and I mean no one in our committee has any problem or any issue with the fact that John is gay,” he said. “He is not only a great guy, but I also believe he is absolutely a good Republican. His GOP bonafides are beyond question at this point.”

Brooks maintained the Delaware Republican Party “is not in favor of changing the definition of marriage.” He described the resolution the committee members approved is “a completely reasonable outlook for a political party.”

“Nobody wants to fire John,” Brooks said. “He’s a good guy.”

Gregory T. Angelo, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, cited unsuccessful efforts to oust Illinois Republican Party Chair Pat Brady over his support of same-sex marriage in his response to the Sussex County Republican Committee’s resolution.

“Mr. Fluharty was exercising his right to freedom of speech as a private citizen,” Angelo told the Blade. “Blustering non-binding resolutions only serve to give liberals fodder and plays to people’s worst stereotypes about the GOP.”

09
Apr
2013

Illinois GOP chair resigns

Pat Brady, Republican Party, Illinois, gay news, Washington Blade

Pat Brady (Image via YouTube)

SPRINGFIELD, Ill.—Illinois Republican Party Chair Pat Brady resigned this week. He told the Associated Press he decided to step down because of his wife’s continued battle with cancer and his desire to spend more time with her and their children. Brady said social conservatives within the party pressured him to step down after he publicly backed same-sex marriage earlier this year.

Members of the Illinois Republican State Central Committee had been scheduled to discuss Brady’s termination in March, but they abruptly cancelled the meeting at the last minute because they reportedly did not have enough votes to oust him.

“Pat Brady supported all Illinois families with his endorsement of the freedom to marry,” Equality Illinois CEO Bernard Cherkasov said. “Now we honor his decision to resign to focus on his family, and we wish them all the best.”

08
May
2013

Chair of Ill. GOP urges lawmakers to support same-sex marriage bill

Illinois State Capitol, Springfield, gay news, Washington Blade

Illinois State Capitol (Photo by Meagan Davis via wikimedia commons)

The chair of the Illinois Republican Party on Wednesday urged state lawmakers to support a bill that would allow same-sex couples to marry.

“More and more Americans understand that if two people want to make a lifelong commitment to each other, government should not stand in their way,” Pat Brady told the Chicago Sun-Times. “Giving gay and lesbian couples the freedom to get married honors the best conservative principles. It strengthens families and reinforces a key Republican value — that the law should treat all citizens equally.”

Gay former Republican National Committee Chair Ken Mehlman, who lobbied lawmakers in Maryland and New York to support same-sex marriage measures in their respective states, also urged Illinois lawmakers to vote for the bill.

“Republicans should support the freedom to marry in Illinois, consistent with our core conservative belief in freedom and liberty for all,” Mehlman said in a statement that Illinois Unites for Marriage, a coalition of groups that supports the same-sex marriage law, released. “Allowing civil marriage for same-sex couples will cultivate community stability, encourage fidelity and commitment and foster strong family values.”

Brady, who stressed he was expressing his own views and not those of the state GOP, announced his support for the same-sex marriage bill on the same day the 15-member Illinois Senate Executive Committee was expected to consider the measure. (The Windy City Times reported late on Wednesday members are expected to vote on the bill state Sen. Heather Steans introduced on Thursday.)

Lawmakers have until the end of the current legislative session on Jan. 8 to vote on the same-sex marriage bill. Governor Pat Quinn has said he will sign the measure, while a White House spokesperson told the Chicago Sun-Times on Saturday that President Obama also supports the measure.

Chicago Archbishop Cardinal Francis George urged parishioners to oppose efforts to extend marriage rights to gays and lesbians in a letter that parishes distributed on Sunday.

Equality Illinois CEO optimistic bill will pass

Same-sex couples can legally marry in nine states and D.C., while Illinois is among the handful of other states that allow gays and lesbians to enter into civil unions.

Gay marriage referenda passed in Maryland, Maine and Washington in November, while Minnesota voters on Election Day struck down a proposed state constitutional amendment that would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman. Maryland’s same-sex marriage law took effect on New Year’s Day, while gays and lesbians began to tie the knot in Maine and Washington on Saturday and Dec. 9 respectively.

Lawmakers in Delaware, Hawaii, New Jersey and Rhode Island are expected to consider measures later this year that would allow gays and lesbians to tie the knot.

Equality Illinois CEO Bernard Cherkasov told the Washington Blade during an interview from Springfield, the state capital, earlier on Wednesday he remains optimistic lawmakers will support the same-sex marriage bill. He said he feels recent legislative and electoral advances on the issue in other states will spur more Illinois lawmakers to support it.

“In the past they kept us, the advocates, say to them that this is the right thing to do politically and morally,” Cherkasov said. “Now for the first time they’ve had a chance to see actually that the voters said this is the right thing to do politically and morally. So they didn’t need to trust just the activists and the advocates anymore. They can look at a clear record of successes from four states of voters being supportive of marriage equality.”

03
Jan
2013

Ill. Senate committee approves same-sex marriage bill

Illinois State Capitol, Springfield, gay news, Washington Blade

Illinois State Capitol (Photo by Meagan Davis via wikimedia commons)

An Illinois Senate committee on Thursday voted 8-5 to advance a measure that would allow same-sex couples to marry in the state.

The vote in the Illinois Senate Executive Committee, which had been expected to take place on Wednesday, came after supporters and opponents of the bill testified during a hearing in Springfield, the state capital.

Reverend Vernice Thorn of Broadway United Methodist Church in Chicago noted Jan. 1 marked the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation at the beginning of her testimony in support of the measure.

“It is in that framework of liberation that I come today in support of allowing my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters the freedom to marry in Illinois,” she said. “In my ordination vows I promised to minister to all God’s people and so for me it is imperative that I provide the same marital and pastoral care to everyone in my congregation.”

Bonnie Garneau of PFLAG Bloomington/Normal said her daughter “does not have the same legal options as my sons” because of a lack of marriage rights for same-sex couples in Illinois. Reverend Kim Beckmann of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America testified that she realized the importance of nuptials for gays and lesbians when she observed how a man was treated during his partner’s funeral.

“Marriage equality is about these profound moments from the joy of a wedding and the sorrows of the death that parts us,” Beckmann said. “Even more, marriage equality is about all those days in between, ordinary days of raising families, keeping a household running and supporting vocations that build Illinois communities. Anyone of us who tries to live faithfully and fully in family life knows the importance of the recognition and community support and the legal support that marriage brings. As a pastor and as a person of faith, I want those supports for every household in my congregation and I want these supports that make for strong, thriving and life-giving communities available to all our Illinois families.”

Mercedes Santos and Theresa Volpe, who are among the 25 couples on whose behalf Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois filed lawsuits in May after they were denied marriage licenses, also testified during the hearing. Doctor Laura Berk, a psychologist at Illinois State University, stressed children of gays and lesbians are no different than those raised by heterosexual parents.

Nine states and D.C. allow gays and lesbians to tie the knot, while Illinois is among the handful of others that allow civil unions for same-sex couples.

The committee’s vote coincided with the introduction of two same-sex marriage bills in the Rhode Island General Assembly. Delaware, Hawaii and New Jersey are also scheduled to debate nuptials for gays and lesbians this year.

President Obama, Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Illinois Republican Party Chair Pat Brady are among those who urged lawmakers to back the measure. Gay “Modern Family” actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson also spoke out in support of the proposal, but 1,700 clergy from across the state urged committee members in a letter they sent to them on Wednesday to vote against the bill.

“The proposal you have before you would redefine marriage,” Bishop Thomas John Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield said as he testified against the measure alongside Robert Gilligan, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois. “I ask that you vote against this bill because the legislation fails to recognize certain truths. Neither two men or two women can possibly form a marriage. Our law would be wrong if it said that they could. The basic structure of marriage as the exclusive and lasting relationship of a man and a woman committed to a life with the potential of having children is given to us in human nature, and thus by nature’s God. Some have said that this bill would simply extend marriage to some people who have long been arbitrarily excluded from it. They are wrong. The pending bill would not expand the eligibility roster for marriage; it would radically redefine what marriage is for everybody.”

Ralph Rivera of the Illinois Family Institute questioned whether the bill protects religious freedom.

“This is an attack on our particular religious beliefs and the church’s religious beliefs,” he said, broadly referring to a Massachusetts man who claims he was arrested in 2005 because he demanded his son’s school administrators not expose him to homosexuality after he brought a book home that included families with same-sex couples. “It’s not about as some would say oh it’s just two men who want to get married or two women. That’s not it. When this says the church has to do what they ask unless they’re exempt from this in the way this is written.”

State Sen. Heather Steans, the bill’s sponsor, stressed during the hearing that same-sex couples “have the same aspirations we all do.” She also noted a majority of Illinois residents now support nuptials for gays and lesbians.

Steans added the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to hear cases on the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 provide additional motivation for lawmakers to support the issue.

“There’s a sea change going on here,” she said. “It’s time Illinois join up and catch up to that and join the nine other states that already provide same-sex marriage.”

Advocates look towards incoming legislature

Lawmakers had until the end of the current legislative session on Tuesday to vote on the same-sex marriage bill, but Equality Illinois CEO Bernard Cherkasov and other advocates conceded that “time to move the bill through both chambers” of the legislature “is not on our side.” They said they plan to advance the measure once the new General Assembly convenes on Jan. 9.

“We have come so far,” Cherkasov said. “Just to be able to witness the historic public debate over the desire of all loving, committed couples to be able to marry in Illinois is a major accomplishment. And with the landmark action by the Senate Executive Committee in favor of the bill, for the first time ever an Illinois legislative body voted to extend the freedom to marry. Never before has the issue gone this far in the Illinois legislature.”

Rick Garcia, senior policy adviser for the Civil Rights Agenda who is Equality Illinois’ former political director, disagreed with this decision.

“What I have learned — and I have been down here [in Springfield] for 20 years, and I have worked things — is that on every piece of legislation I have worked on, there are dark times, when you think it’s not going to go,” he told the Windy City Times after the committee’s vote. “You push forward, and you stand firm, you move and move until you can’t move any more. To throw in the towel now is a stupid maneuver. TCRA is here, and we’ve been here for past three years, and we knew nothing about this decision until we saw the press release.”

04
Jan
2013