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Turning of the tide on same-sex marriage

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Updated: November 15, 2013 6:18AM

It will be interesting to see what Cardinal Francis George and the coalition of African American Clergy Coalition turn to in their attempt to defeat HB-0110, the Religious Freedom Marriage Fairness Act.

One thing you can be sure of is that they’ve not given up the fight against the legislation. However, they face what is turning out to be an interesting dilemma, emanating from a formidable force.

Their quandary began as a result of Pope Francis’ impromptu remarks related to homosexuality. While the pontiff has said nothing to change church teachings regarding homosexuality, his gentle and inclusive nature toward the LGBTQ community will likely necessitate a tweaking of the strategy used by Cardinal George and the Clergy Coalition. It is also possible that as the pontiff humanizes his position on the issue of homosexuality that it will have an effect on Illinois legislators and the remaining states that do not have marriage equality laws.

Pope Francis’ stunning and seemingly spontaneous statement while traveling from Brazil to Rome could also prompt a change in the strategies of anti-gay activists who like to use Biblical text as a basis for their virulent condemnation of the LGBTQ community and to strengthen their stance against same-sex marriage.

In addition to the Pope’s declaration, public opinion associated with same-sex marriage continues to evolve. It is clear that in recent years, there has been a shift in the viewpoint of Americans regarding homosexuality, but a change in the perspective of blacks and Hispanics is slow to change as they cling to their bias toward the LGBTQ community.

Until the pontiff’s recent statements, there was little progress made in assuaging the hardliners. Even now, their judgmental attitude is illustrated by what would otherwise be considered an improbable alliance, between the African American Clergy Coalition and the head of the Chicago Archdiocese. Prior to the Holy Father’s remarks opponents of legalizing same-sex marriage were brazen in their opposition to HB-0110. They publicly, and quite audaciously, revealed that the purpose of the formation was to derail the legislation.

There is nothing new about what Cardinal George, and the cadre of antigay religious leaders, are attempting to do. In fact, it typifies the approach used by most anti-gay activists. Yet, what’s new is that the tactic to use disparaging rhetoric to alienate the LGBTQ community, in an attempt to isolate same-sex marriage advocates from the rest of society, is now countered by one of the world’s most powerful religious leaders.

Moreover, there are indications that the public is rejecting the divisiveness of Cardinal George and the AACC. Instead they are embracing the passionate and inclusive position of the Holy Father, who straightforwardly stated that, “If a person is gay, seeks God and has goodwill, who am I to judge?”

Cardinal George and the AACC, who have taken up the mantle to speak out against the legalization of same-sex marriage in Illinois, must have been, like the rest of the religious world, shocked by the pontiff’s declaration.

This is not to say that attempts to block the passage of HB-0110 will not continue. Surely, the chief sponsor of legislation, Illinois state Rep. Greg Harris and cosponsors expect that the opposition will continue. However, from my perspective, the position of anti-gay and same-sex marriage opponents is severely weakened by Pope Francis’ conciliatory statements.

The March on Springfield for Marriage Equality, scheduled for Oct. 22, that is coincidentally on the first day of the fall veto session of the Illinois state legislature, is expected to bring LGBTQ supporters from all corners of the state.

Several weeks ago, I discussed the Illinois Religious Freedom-Marriage Act with Harris, who told me that in spite of the multitude of important things that are going on at the statehouse, including pension reform, that he is optimistic that the marriage equality bill will be called for a vote.

More recently, Rep. Harris said that, “Marriage equality is about fairness. Across Illinois, there are thousands of loving, committed couples and their families who are being harmed every day because our state excludes them from marriage. They occupy a second-class legal status and are unable to access hundreds of federal protections available to married couples. In America, freedom means freedom for everyone. All families, including families led by same-sex couples, should have the same freedoms.”

Chicago Alderman Deborah Mell shared this personal perspective saying that, “Christin and I got married in Iowa in 2011. We got married for the same reasons that straight couples get married. We wanted to make a lifelong promise to take care of each other, in good times and bad. We wanted the security that marriage brings. Here in Illinois, same-sex couples are excluded from that. These are real people coping with real-life problems, they’re getting older, facing uncertainty if their loved one gets sick. What if they can’t take family leave because our state won’t let them marry? What if their loved one dies and they lose their house? This is urgent. The General Assembly needs to act now.”

My personal take is that the Pope’s unexpected remarks have sent into a tailspin the scheming of Chicago’s pre-eminent archbishop, and the African American pastors led by Bishop Larry Trotter and Rev. James L. Meeks. You may recall that Rev. Meeks has the distinction of being named by the Southern Poverty Law Center as one of the most homophobic black ministers in America, so don’t believe for a second that they will be deterred.

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