CHICAGO (AP) — Advocates of same-sex marriage in Illinois turned up the pressure on state lawmakers Thursday as a group of black Chicago-area clergy members cast their support, calling it a bold step forward for equality — even in the face of potential backlash from colleagues and congregants.
Their message was geared toward those who've been reluctant to endorse legislation legalizing gay marriage, including black lawmakers, and came as another group of prominent black pastors from Chicago mega-churches launched an aggressive opposition campaign.
Pastors from suburban and urban churches, some small and already liberal in their views, backed the measure Thursday; one is openly lesbian. Several of them acknowledged the difficulty in supporting gay marriage professionally, and one said his church still wouldn't allow him to perform same-sex marriages even if the law allowed it. They said they endorsed it as a matter of equal legal rights and the next step in the struggle for civil rights.
"We're all taking a risk by openly endorsing this bill, but I happened to know there are hundreds of pastors who cannot put themselves in this vulnerable position," said the Rev. Carlton Pearson, who was once one of the leading Pentecostal ministers nationwide until he began teaching that everyone goes to heaven, including gay people. The move angered many and he now runs his own church, New Dimensions Chicago.
Legislation granting same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual ones has passed the Illinois Senate, but faces a tough vote in the House, where it needs 60 votes. House Speaker Michael Madigan has estimated the measure is a dozen votes shy. A key sponsor and advocates say the number is less.
Lawmakers and advocates have been vague on exactly whose support they're targeting, but both sides have become more vocal recent weeks in anticipation of a vote sometime this month. Most recently, the focus has zeroed in on groups whose votes are likely difficult to get, suburban Republicans and the 20 black House members. All are Democrats and mostly from the Chicago area, but several are still undecided.