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Representatives? Please, vote yes!

An Open Letter to Representatives Chuck Jefferson and John Cabello:

In the next few weeks, you will be asked by State Representative Greg Harris if you will support his bill, the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act. As you know, the bill has already passed the state Senate and the House Executive Committee. The Governor has promised to sign it. Only one step remains – passage by the full house. We know the vote will be close – and your votes will matter.

Representative Jefferson, you voted against the Civil Unions bill some years ago and have stated that you “aren’t there yet” when it comes to marriage equality, because, in part, of the traditional faith teachings you’ve held all your life. Representative Cabello, you’ve said you’re against the bill, in part because of your faith commitments. In this open letter, I want to speak to you as a person of faith, a citizen, and a strong supporter of marriage equality.

I respect that your faith teaches you that marriage is reserved for a man and a woman, only. My faith teaches me differently – that marriage is for any two adults who commit to each other in love and partnership. I probably won’t change your mind about your definition of marriage, and I guarantee you won’t change mine. But – and this is the most important thing I want to say – you don’t need to change your definition of marriage in order to vote yes.

You can continue to believe that marriage is only for opposite sex couples. Your churches, and others, can continue to practice that belief and to perform and honor only those marriages. Indeed, the Catholic Church – Representative Cabello’s faith home – does not officially recognize divorces, and does not perform marriages for non-Catholics. That is their right, protected by the First Amendment; it is a right I defend and strongly support.

My own faith tradition, Unitarian Universalism, has performed marriages for same-sex couples for decades – those marriages were, until recently, not recognized by any state, but they were true for us. And they were true for the couples we married. Couples who love each other, raise children together, pay their taxes, grumble at the news, plant their gardens, work, laugh, and go to church as a family.

The question before you is this: should the State of Illinois treat all marriages, and all people, equally under the law? The duty of a legislator is to the general public, including sometimes unpopular minorities – not to any single faith tradition. As you contemplate your vote, I urge you to think about the actual families who will be affected. All these families want is for their commitment to be treated equally under the law. We are talking here about civil marriage, which is different from religious marriage.

If you vote yes, you can simply and honestly say: “My personal view has not changed. But this isn’t about my personal view. It’s about whether the government should treat people equally under the law.”

You’ve both seen the dramatic shift on this issue in recent years. Given the strong support for marriage equality among the young, the future is clear: sooner or later, marriage equality will be the law of the land. By supporting the bill before you, you can guarantee the strong religious freedom protections in this bill and place yourself on the right side of history.

Please remember that you each represent many gay and lesbian people. You represent many who belong to religious traditions who practice marriage equality. We are citizens too. Our rights are just as important as yours. We ask for no special privilege. All we want is for our love, our faith, and our lives to be respected in the laws of our state. When the time comes, please, vote yes.

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1 Comment

  1. Jeff Glass

    We all have gay friends, family and co-workers and we do not want to hurt their feelings. If you look around Rockford, gays are treated with respect and welcomed into all aspects of community life. If you look at the broader culture, the sea change in attitudes toward gays over the last 30-40 years has been remarkable, which reflects that most people in fact bear no ill will towards gay people. Still, I, like Rep. Jefferson, have concerns about officially sanctioning same sex unions as marriages, since it jettisons thousands of years of civil and religious custom and teaching across all cultures. Maybe it is just a case of needing more time to think about it, but I think the statement that he “is not there yet” touches upon something legitimate and prudent.