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Mayor Emanuel vows to push for legalizing gay marriage

Mayor Rahm Emanuel. File photo. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel. File photo. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

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Updated: March 17, 2012 10:24AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday offered an impassioned plea for legalizing gay marriage in Illinois to the delight of the bill’s champions in Springfield.

As a candidate for mayor, Emanuel showcased his broad support in the gay community and promised to return the favor by pressuring the Illinois General Assembly to approve gay marriage and extend pension benefits to domestic partners.

Last week, three Chicago Democrats in the state House — Greg Harris, Deb Mell and Kelly Cassidy — introduced their gay marriage bill, starting the ball rolling on a process that could take years.

On Wednesday, the mayor made it clear he plans to deliver on his campaign promise to the gay community by putting his notorious powers of persuasion to work on state lawmakers.

“Before I was a mayor, I worked hard on the civil union legislation. I made phone calls. And when it passed, I was at Millennium Park, when we had the first [ceremony]. In fact, I presided over a series of ceremonies in my office,” the mayor said.

“When you have two loving adults, that should be held up as a positive — whether it’s male-female, or, in this case, female-female or male-male. That’s proper. We shouldn’t as a state discriminate.”

The mayor then told the story of a woman in Florida who was denied the right to visit her same-sex partner in the hospital because they weren’t married.

At the time, Emanuel was serving as White House chief-of-staff. He brought the matter to the attention of President Barack Obama, the White House counsel and the U.S. Justice Department.

The result was an edict that prohibits hospitals that receive federal funding from “discriminating based on sexual orientation” or couples “not being a family,” the mayor said.

“Recognizing the love between two adults also has a series of rippling effects through a series of policies — public and private — that we all take as a given and is not true for gays and lesbian couples,” the mayor said.

“So I’ll push for it because it’s consistent with the values base that I think is right as a city, as a state and as a country. ... I support both the civil union and ultimately gay marriage because I think discrimination that’s embedded deeper than just recognizing a marriage or recognizing a civil union” is wrong.

Harris and Mell could not have been more delighted with the mayor’s support.

“He has a really good relationship with a lot of us down there. His voice matters. The mayor has an incredible influence over Springfield. This is vitally important,” said Mell, daughter of Ald. Richard Mell (33rd), chairman of the City Council’s Rules Committee.

“It’s an election year. It’s a heavy lift. We’re just coming off civil unions. [But], Washington state just passed it. New Jersey just passed it. The momentum is on our side.”

Harris said Emanuel’s support is “very important” to a crusade that could take years, just as it took three years from introduction to passage to approve civil unions.

“Here is the leader of the largest city in the state who was voted for by millions of people who believes this is the right thing to do. I know from talking to him that he believes this is not only politically the right thing to do, but the right thing for justice,” Harris said.

“There’s so much going on this year with pensions, Medicaid and the state budget. I don’t know if it’ll happen this year. But, you can’t finish a journey until you take the first step.”

Over the years, former Mayor Richard M. Daley emerged as a champion on gay and lesbian issues. He engineered $5.4 million in loans and subsidies for the Center on Halsted, the Midwest’s first permanent center for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Daley appointed gay department heads and Chicago’s first openly-gay alderman and extended health benefits to registered live-in partners of gay and lesbian city employees. He welcomed the 2006 Gay Games, increased city support for AIDS funding and established the LGBT Hall of Fame.

By championing gay marriage, Emanuel is hoping to build on the legacy of his political mentor.

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