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Cross ambiguous on gay marriage

State Rep. Tom Cross. | Steven Buyansky~Sun-Times Media

State Rep. Tom Cross. | Steven Buyansky~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: May 29, 2013 7:34AM

It’s easy to take issue with Illinois House GOP leader Tom Cross if you are for same sex-marriage in Illinois.

And easy to be angry with him if you’re against it.

Cross has observed a studied neutrality on this volatile, divisive issue that already has passed the state Senate and is getting close to passage in the House.

Cross is a progressive Republican, so you’d think that Cross — like Illinois GOP chairman Pat Brady — would be out in front on an issue that an increasing number of Americans have moved to support. That includes U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk. Along with a growing constituency in traditionally Republican strongholds like DuPage County.

So where’s Cross when it comes to leading the charge?

The answer is nuanced.

Republicans in Illinois are a minority in general. And they live in a special kind of exile in the General Assembly, where House Speaker Mike Madigan runs the table.

And that august body is bedeviled by a raft of polarizing issues right now, from pension reform to the concealed carry of weapons.

Same-sex marriage, however, is the most electric. And it’s been tough to maintain a civil conversation, though some people on both sides have tried.

One of them is State Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), the point person in the House for same-sex marriage.

“Very often you have representatives who feel in their heart this is a test of conscience,” he said. But differ on what that conscience dictates. “I try to be very respectful,” he said.

Another is State Rep. David Harris (R-Arlington Heights) whose district, he says, is split. “The folks who say ‘vote no’ are often portrayed as reactionary or homophobic but are regular people with traditional values. . . . Many are church-based.”

Inside Cross’ caucus of 47 Republicans, David Harris and most others will vote “no” when the time comes. Only two Republicans, Ron Sandack of Downers Grove and Ed Sullivan of Mundelein, have publicly voiced support for same-sex marriage. And they’re reportedly taking a huge amount of heat from some GOP brethren because of it.

Enter Cross.

“I’m trying to balance . . . and respect the wishes of a whole caucus . . . at the same time trying to remind everybody in our caucus that there are folks who are for this. You have to respect them,” he said by phone on Friday.

The ironies abound.

Some of the downstate members of Cross’ caucus who invoke their conservatism in opposing gay marriage don’t seem very conservative at all when it comes to pension reform. On that issue, they seem to have found common ground with their liberal Democratic colleagues, dependent as many of them are on the support of public employee unions.

So much for ideology.

Back to same-sex marriage, what Cross has done is to defend — behind the scenes — the right of his members to dissent from Republican orthodoxy, while supporting the majority’s opposition to the measure.

He prevents an intra-party mutiny.

But he is clear-eyed in recognizing the revolution is well under way.

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