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260 clergy — many from Chicago — back gay-marriage legislation

DianShull (left) Maggie Burke St. Charles embrace after their civil uniceremony Millennium Park downtown Chicago June 2011. The couple took

Diana Shull (left) and Maggie Burke of St. Charles embrace after their civil union ceremony at Millennium Park in downtown Chicago in June 2011. The couple took part in a mass civil union ceremony attended by Gov. Quinn that marked the start of legal civi

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Updated: January 25, 2013 6:17AM

Just days after two Illinois lawmakers said they would push to legalize gay marriage when the Legislature reconvenes in January, about 260 Illinois religious leaders — including many from Chicago — are urging support for the proposal.

In a joint letter released Sunday, those clergy are encouraging lawmakers to vote for the proposed Religious Freedom and Marriage Act.

“We dedicate our lives to fostering faith and compassion, and we work daily to promote justice and fairness for all,” the clergy wrote. “Standing on these beliefs, we think that it is morally just to grant equal opportunities and responsibilities to loving, committed same-sex couples. There can be no justification for the law treating people differently on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.”

One pastor who signed the letter said he did so, in part, because he has close friends and family who are gay.

“I love them to death, and in no shape or form would I want them to be discriminated against,” said Seth Schutte, youth director at Tuscola United Methodist Church in Tuscola, near Champaign. “I believe they should have the same rights as everyone else.”

Schutte said he’s looked to the Bible for guidance on the issue.

“Marriage is an institution that was ordained by God, and God meant it for all people,” Schutte said. “The Bible itself mentions marriage around 72 times, and only refers to marriage being between a man and woman twice.”

Another pastor in support of the proposal echoed Schutte.

Roger Dart, the associate pastor at Congregational Church in Deerfield, said committed gay people deserve something more than a civil union, which “can exist without love and without commitment.

“A civil union is kind of like a business partnership — which a marriage is in reality — but there are people who consider a marriage to be something divine and holy,” Dart said.

Earlier this month, Rep. Greg Harris and Sen. Heather Steans, both Chicago Democrats who played major roles in bringing civil unions for domestic partners to Illinois, said support for gay marriage has been rapidly gaining speed since President Barack Obama spoke in favor of it earlier this year.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has called passing gay marriage a legislative priority. A poll for Southern Illinois University in September found 44 percent of Illinois voters support same-sex marriage, up 10 points from just two years earlier.

Nine states currently allow gay marriage. Harris and Steans said an Illinois law, which would take effect July 1, would recognize same-sex marriages from other states, and those who have entered civil unions in Illinois could apply for a marriage license with no fee for the first year.

Lois McCullen Parr, a pastor at Broadway United Methodist Church in Boystown, said recent gains nationally — in November, three states approved gay marriage through popular vote — means now is the time to change the law in illinois.

Parr acknowledged state legislators will be busy with the crucial issue of pension reform. However, “It’s also critical for us to look at how we treat each other, and marriage equality is part of that,” Parr said.

Generally, legalized marriage for same-sex couples give them greater rights regarding taxes, insurance and freedom from privacy restrictions that heterosexual couples have.

Contributing: AP

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