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Passions, pressure, protests build over same-sex marriage bill

Illinois Rep. Jack Franks (D-Marengo)

Illinois Rep. Jack Franks (D-Marengo)

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Updated: May 25, 2013 6:41AM

As a recent town hall meeting in his district quickly grew heated, state Rep. Jack Franks (D-Marengo) said for the first time in his political career he wished he had brought something with him — security.

Franks was talking pension reform, but one man opposed to same-sex marriage became particularly agitated.

“It was heated. For the first time, I felt, I really should have had security here,” Franks told the Chicago Sun-Times. “He got physically close, I probably asked him eight times to stop and felt he was being rude. We were in a public place. It was a little bizarre.”

Franks isn’t saying which way he’s going to vote on the issue, insisting he hasn’t decided and sees pension reform as his top issue.

In the last several weeks, behind-the-scenes pressure as well as public rancor over a same sex marriage bill still pending in the Illinois House has intensified. Picketers are coming out in force. Legislators have spoken to Cardinal Francis George personally on the phone.

One potential death threat — later deemed unfounded — was under investigation by the Illinois State Police and Mundelein police against Republican Ed Sullivan, a state representative who publicly disclosed his support for the bill.

His Facebook page shows a sampling of what Sullivan has faced, including this posting:

“What a moral sell out for personal gain. God knows everything. Do you Mr. Sullivan think that GOD thinks homosexual sex is ok?” one person posted on his Facebook page.

Sullivan said he’s fully prepared to face a primary challenge over the issue.

“What people need to know is: This is my belief, I believe in this and I’m willing to lose my job over this,” said Sullivan. “I don’t see that happening but come March, we’ll see.”

Last weekend, activists from both sides of the issue showed up at the office of Linda Chapa LaVia (D-Aurora). Chapa LaVia has said she is 50-50 on the issue.

A same-sex marriage advocate said that a rally was planned for early May for the office of state Rep. Ron Sandack (R-Downers Grove), who has publicly come out in favor of the bill.

“I think people are losing perspective,” said Franks, who said some of the behind-the-scenes maneuvering with the issue has involved a form of intimidation and threats. “Not physical threats, but political threats. If you don’t do this or if you do this, it’s the end, either way.”

This year, it’s no surprise there’s a more sophisticated push on both a national and state level, with big donors on both sides intimating they will pull support for a candidate or fund a challenger if the vote doesn’t go their way. House Speaker Michael Madigan has previously said the issue is a dozen votes shy of passage. Behind-the-scenes activists say it’s closer — but therein lies the potential for ramped up volatility.

The National Organization for Marriage has publicly said it would bankroll challengers to any Illinois Republican who votes for the bill. Groups opposed to same sex marriage have funded robo-calls to the districts of undecided lawmakers. The calls ask constituents to simply press a number and they’re directed to their representative’s district office. In some cases, it’s brought an onslaught of callers voicing their opposition.

State Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), the sponsor of the House bill, said he’s heard positive feedback from the surprise yes votes — including from Sullivan.

“This is a very important topic, no one should be disrespectful or hateful in their approach,” Harris said.

Bernard Cherkasov of Equality Illinois said his group has sponsored phone banking, where constituents are contacted by phone and educated on same sex marriage. But Cherkasov said that the group urges its volunteers keep the conversation tame and respectful.

“In fact, every time we plan a rally of supporters . . . we continuously focus on it being a positive thing,” said Cherkasov. “After all, the whole reason behind the fight to marry is a fight for love.”

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