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Jesse Tyler Ferguson stops at Tie Bar to promote same-sex marriage

Lt. Governor SheilSimurges citizens contact their legislators support same-sex marriage Wednesday with help from 'Modern Family' actor Jesse Tyler Ferguscenter

Lt. Governor Sheila Simon urges citizens to contact their legislators in support of same-sex marriage Wednesday with help from "Modern Family" actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson, center, and his fiancee Justin at The Tie Bar in Naperville. Mary Beth Nolan~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 5, 2013 6:13AM

It likely surprises no one that Mitchell Pritchett would believe in same-sex marriage.

The fictional character from the ABC hit comedy “Modern Family” is half of a TV couple that also includes Cameron Tucker, portrayed by Eric Stonestreet. But Jesse Tyler Ferguson, who plays the role of Mitchell, has very real-life reasons for lobbying to have marriage between same-sex couples legally recognized from coast to coast.

Ferguson visited Naperville on Wednesday afternoon with his fiance, Justin Mikita, and a group of fellow marriage-equality activists that also included Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon. Their appearance was one of several stops the entourage made to spotlight “Bow Tie Lobby Day,” set for Thursday in Springfield. The initiative aims to convince Illinois lawmakers to sport bow ties displaying their support for same-sex marriage in the state.

Simon — whose dad, the late U.S. Sen. Paul Simon, was rarely seen without a bow tie on — picked up a new bow tie while visiting Naperville’s The Tie Bar, which partnered with Ferguson and Mikita’s nonprofit, Tie The Knot, and hosted the Wednesday event. Tie The Knot produces limited-edition bow ties and donates profits from their sale to organizations promoting gay marriage rights. Its mission is “to advocate for the civil rights of gay and lesbian Americans throughout the United States and to look damn good while doing it,” press materials state.

The foundation’s establishment, however, was a simpler matter than that.

“We wanted to design some bow ties, because we love them,” Ferguson said.

While his famous face and its connection to a hugely popular TV show don’t hurt the cause, he took no credit for the idea of Tie The Knot. That was all Mikita, whom Ferguson described as “my better half and the smarter of the two of us.”

A marriage-equality law would move Illinois in “a very positive direction,” Simon said, by conveying a clear message that the state is inclusive and embraces “two-mom households and two-dad households.”

The measure could come to a vote in Springfield in the next few days.

If approved, the state’s Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act would extend to gay and lesbian spouses the same legal rights accorded to heterosexual married couples.

Nikki and Jamie Pagano are hopeful the measure will pass. The Naperville couple have considered themselves married since they were joined in a ceremony at the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Naperville in July 2007. They reaffirmed their commitment after Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation granting full legal rights to those in civil unions, joining some three dozen other couples in Chicago’s Millennium Park for a mass ceremony in June 2011. The state’s blessing would make their union “a little more equal and a little more correct,” said Nikki Pagano, a science teacher at Washington Junior High School in Naperville.

“I think it’s the only time you can get married three times to the same person, without getting divorced,” she said.

Legalized marriage among those of the same sex is particularly important, she said, in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s current consideration of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. The justices are expected to begin hearing arguments in March focused on the 1996 legislation, which defines marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman. If the federal law is struck down, Pagano said, a state-sanctioned marriage between the two would be recognized in every state, while their civil union still would not.

Greg Shugar, who owns The Tie Bar with his wife, Gina, said they agreed to work with Ferguson, an established Tie Bar customer, because they believe in marriage equality.

“Because my wife and I agree with it, and actually feel pretty strongly about it on a personal level, we thought it would be a good partnership,” he said.

Voters in Maine, Maryland and Washington approved the right of same-sex couples to marry when they went to the polls Nov. 6. If the issue clears the General Assembly, Illinois would be the 10th state to pave the way for homosexual couples to tie the knot. Shugar thinks the numbers are far too small.

“To me, it’s an obvious human rights issue,” he said. “It baffles me that gay and lesbian couples continue to be treated like second-class citizens when it comes to the institution of marriage.”

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