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Olivia Sorrel-Dejerine/MEDILL

Supporters of the same-sex marriage bill marched in front of Holy Name Cathedral Sunday to protest against Cardinal Francis George's opposition to the legalization of gay marriage.

Gay marriage supporters await Illinois Senate vote, but battle Catholic clergy’s opposition

by Olivia Sorrel-Dejerine
Feb 12, 2013


Olivia Sorrel-Dejerine/MEDILL

LGBT activists protested in front of Holy Name Cathedral on Sunday.


Olivia Sorrel-Dejerine/MEDILL

Nick Costello, a member of the Knights of Columbus, came alone on Sunday to show his support for Cardinal George.

Olivia Sorrel-Dejerine/MEDILL

Supporters of the same-sex marriage bill conducted a silent protest march in front of Holy Name Cathedral to highlight what they called "Cardinal George's bigotry."

 An Illinois Senate vote on a bill legalizing same-sex marriage is expected on Valentine’s Day, while supporters continue to fight what they consider an anti-gay message coming from religious leaders in Chicago.

Many LGBT activists say they think the bill will be passed on Thursday. Joe Murray in particular said he thinks gay marriage will be legalized. Murray is the executive director of the Rainbow Sash Movement, whose purpose is to encourage dialogue around the issue of gay rights and sexuality in the Catholic Church.
“There is a tremendous amount of support. The governor, John Cullerton – the president of the state Senate – even the chairman of the Republican Party here in Illinois has supported it,” Murray said.
Pat Brady, the state GOP chairman, experienced vocal resistance from his party when he came out in support of a gay marriage law in January, but said he stuck by his position.

“This shouldn’t be a Democratic thing or a Republican thing, this should be a constitutional question that we need to address and get beyond,” Murray said.

Even if the bill passes the Senate this week, it still must be passed by the Illinois House, where it is expected to meet stiff opposition.
Legislators opposed to the bill are finding strong support from the Roman Catholic clergy.

On Feb. 6 the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a letter to the White House stating that they would not support immigration reform if it included special protections for same-sex couples.

Locally, Cardinal Francis George has been a vocal opponent of the bill, urging Chicago Catholics to contact their legislators.

LGBT activists marched in front of Holy Name Cathedral in downtown Chicago on Sunday to voice their criticisms of what they call “the bigotry of the Church leadership's positions.”

“Cardinal George has rarely let an opportunity to vilify our community go by, and so we are really angry with his opposition to our legal equality,” said Andy Thayer, the co-founder of the Gay Liberation Network, which organized the protest.

The cardinal gave voice to his opposition in a column published last month in Catholic New World, the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

“It is physically impossible for two men, or two women, to consummate a marital union,” he wrote. “Same-sex unions are incompatible with the teaching that has kept the Church united to her Lord for two thousand years.”

Many LGBT activists say they believe Cardinal George’s positions do not reflect the views of the majority of Catholics in Illinois.

“He is way out of step with where most of Illinois Catholics are on the issue of same-sex marriage. He is way out of step with a majority of Catholics on issues like contraception and women’s rights as well,” Thayer said.

A majority of Illinois Catholics approve of gay and lesbian unions, according to polling data released in October 2012 by The Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University, as reported by Capitol Fax, a news organization covering state government.

The data indicate that out of 401 Catholics surveyed, 81 percent of them support either full marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples or the right to a civil union. Only 15.7 percent said there should be no legal recognition of same-sex relationships.

“Over and over again, the polls have shown that the cardinal is really in the dark ages in comparison to the majority,” Thayer said.

While it is true that there are conservative Catholics, LGBT activists say they believe that the majority’s opinion is changing and evolving.

“We have a lot of gay Catholics now who are very active. Like here in Chicago, in the Near North parishes. And most of those parishes are really welcoming towards gay people,” said Rainbow Sash’s Murray.

Nick Costello, a member of the Knights of Columbus, came to the protest on Sunday to show his support for the cardinal.

“I think everyone has a right to express their opinion, but I strongly disagree with some of these signs that they are holding that the cardinal is a bigot,” Costello said.

David Fernandez, a parishioner at Holy Name Cathedral, who attended the service on Sunday, said it was “a bit of an extreme to be demonstrating in front of the mass.”

“The Catholic faith is not for everybody. It’s OK. It doesn’t make it bad or anything. But it’s not for everybody. I get it,” Fernandez said. “But to openly say that the Catholic Church hates gays and that we are a bigotry, this goes too far.”

Thayer said it is important to make people aware of the opposition to legal equality.

“The problem is that if you don’t highlight that bigotry, it goes unanswered and normalized, which I think is what happened in California with Proposition 8,” Thayer said. Proposition 8 was the referendum that banned gay marriage in the state. It was later overturned by a federal court.