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Conservatives and black clergy unite against same-sex marriage

The Rev. James Meeks. File Photo

The Rev. James Meeks. File Photo

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Updated: June 1, 2013 6:41AM

Black clergy from Chicago and the south suburbs on Monday began another round of robo-calls narrated by the Rev. James Meeks to condemn same-sex marriage, urging people to compel their state lawmakers to oppose a pending Illinois House bill.

The effort though, represents a marriage of another kind.

The Chicago-based African American Clergy Coalition joined forces with the National Organization for Marriage, pooling resources as the groups aim to kill same-sex marriage legislation that has already advanced from the Illinois state Senate.

“I like the relationship between us and NOM because we’ve been able to educate NOM as to the core beliefs of African Americans,” said Bishop Lance Davis, senior pastor of the New Zion Christian Fellowship Church of Dolton. “The relationship actually stems around the fact that I believe that most of your family-oriented organizations thought, erroneously, the majority of the African American community is behind a liberal agenda, period. They found out the African American church is very conservative.”

The National Organization for Marriage — known as NOM — has warned it would target Illinois Republicans who vote in favor of the measure, vowing to spend as much as $250,000 on an anti-gay marriage campaign. A representative for the organization did not return a call for comment Monday. But in January the group issued this political threat:

“Any Republican in Illinois who betrays the cause of marriage will be casting a career-ending vote and will be held accountable to their constituents,” said Brian Brown, the organization’s president. “We will spend whatever it takes — hundreds of thousands of dollars if necessary — to remove them from office, just as we did three of the four turncoat Republican state Senators in New York who were responsible for gay ‘marriage’ passing there.”

The Illinois Senate passed a same-sex marriage bill on Valentine’s Day. It still awaits a vote in the Illinois House and won’t be called until the unofficial tally gets to or surpasses the 60 votes needed to pass it. Some members of the House black caucus oppose the bill.

One member, state Rep. Ken Dunkin (D-Chicago), recently signed on as a co-sponsor, however, while others have said they would back the bill.

John Lewis, an African American Civil Rights activist and Georgia Congressman, offered up his support in a recent statement. “In 2013, I find it unbelievable that there is still a need to debate whether or not a human being should be able to marry the one they love.”

Gay rights advocates have also pointed to the most notable African American politician’s stance — President Barack Obama now supports gay marriage, having changed his position before last year’s heated re-election campaign.

Davis estimated the NOM/African American Clergy anti-gay marriage campaign would cost about $75,000 by the end of the session. The Meeks calls will continue through week’s end and start again next Tuesday, he said.

“That has everything covered, that’s radio, that’s our literature, that’s our robo-calls, that’s everything,” Davis said. “If we were able to get $150,000 I certainly believe that we would be able to hold this thing off.”

Other religious groups have been lobbying lawmakers, efforts that include personal phone calls from Cardinal Francis George as well as from the Catholic Conference of Illinois.

“We are soliciting funds from other resources nationally who have said they would like to help us.” But, Davis continued: “We’re still dealing with Goliath here.”

Goliath, he said, is the same-sex marriage advocates — a title they quickly reject.

Gay marriage support is headed by Illinois Unites for Marriage; a coalition of groups, including, most prominently: Equality Illinois, Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union. Beyond that, David Axelrod’s ASGK Public Strategies firm is in the mix as well as deep-pocketed private donors such as Laura Ricketts and Fred Eychaner. Eychaner hosted a Barack Obama presidential fund-raiser at his home last year, in which Michelle Obama was the keynote speaker.

Equality Illinois Executive Director Bernard Cherkasov pointed to the other side as having the deep pockets — and charging they were filled by outsiders.

“What Rev. Meeks’ coalition is doing is using hundreds of thousands of dollars from outside Illinois to work against the will of the majority of Illinoisans,” Cherkasov said.

Cherkasov points to a Public Policy Poll that found that 60 percent of Illinois African Americans surveyed support gay marriage.

For its part, Cherkasov said Equality Illinois spends $200,000 annually to employ two lobbyists.

“Our budget is public record. As an organization, we are an organization that is seven digits but we are funded by 24,000-plus individuals … these contributions fund all of our work, our lobbying work,” he said. “I feel so optimistic [about] where we stand,” Cherkasov said. He said House lawmakers heard the group’s pitch over a recent break. “They gave us an opportunity to make sure they heard from dozens of business members, clergy and hundreds of parents and couples themselves.”

Davis rejected any poll numbers that show a majority of African Americans support gay marriage , saying he and other clergy are before thousands of African Americans every Sunday, and they hear a different story.

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