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‘Our values being attacked’ — audience questions same-sex marriage bill

Ashley Harrell (right) Zispeaks oppositigay marriage with members Church Joy Ziincluding (from right) Luis Reyes SierrFranklCleve Buchanan WandSlater during townhall

Ashley Harrell (right) of Zion speaks in opposition to gay marriage with members of the Church of Joy in Zion, including (from right) Luis Reyes, Sierra Franklin, Cleve Buchanan and Wanda Slater during a townhall meeting at the North Chicago Public Library on Monday to discuss gay marriage legislation passed by the Illinois Senate which will now be voted on by the House. | Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: May 4, 2013 1:51AM

NORTH CHICAGO — Emotions ran high during a townhall meeting Monday on a same-sex marriage bill now before the Illinois House.

Sponsored by state Rep. Rita Mayfield, D-Waukegan, the meeting drew an estimated crowd of 150 people who crammed into a small room for a Q-and-A at the North Chicago Public Library.

Mayfield said she scheduled the meeting at the behest of Chicago-based Equality Illinois. The group sent ACLU attorney Khadine Bennett to explain the bill, which offers same-sex couples the full rights, benefits and responsibilities, Bennett said, of civil marriage.

But members of the audience, which included numerous pastors and church members, balked at Bennett’s insistence that Senate Bill 10 “is about equality,” that it does not “require any religious group to marry a couple they don’t want to marry.”

While Bennett argued the bill would ensure that same-sex couples have access to Social Security and military benefits, detractors, including Ron McAlister, who owns a local printing company, yelled to shouts of agreement: “Our values, our morals, our religion is being attacked! This is an affront to us!”

Ashley Harrel, a staff member with Church of Joy, Zion, demanded the crowd consider the impact of same-sex marriage on the family, arguing it would confuse gender roles.

“This is a strategic effort (that) will not only infiltrate the churches, but indoctrinate our schools, and corrupt the values of the family,” she said to loud applause. “We’re not only concerned within the four walls of our church, but with the safety of the family structure and what’s happening in our street.”

The crowd grew silent when Mildred Leonard of Waukegan spoke of the “stressful” discrimination she confronted while trying to see after her hospitalized partner. Leonard said she was denied medical information in a local emergency room even after showing legal authorization.

“My girlfriend ripped the IV out of her arm,” Leonard said. “I am a mother and I am a grandmother. I’m not biologically a parent. I am socially a parent. You don’t know what we have gone through.”

SB10 passed the Senate on Valentine’s Day. Last week, the Illinois House Executive Committee voted 6-5 to advance it for a vote. If it passes, Illinois will become the 10th state in the nation, in addition to the District of Columbia, to give gay couples the right to marry.

Mayfield said she received more than 200 calls opposing the measure after an ad, purchased by Illinois Unites for Marriage, and urging Mayfield to vote yes on SB10, appeared March 1 in the Lake County News-Sun. Mayfield said that a survey of her constituents, taken last spring, showed 70 percent opposed to legalizing same-sex unions. She said she will vote with the majority opinion in her district.

“I made a pledge that I would always listen to constituents,” Mayfield said. “Yes, I am the representative of the 60th District, but I believe in the will of the people. It’s not about what Rita wants. It’s about what the district wants.”

That comment drew a rebuttal by Ilya Sheyman of Waukegan, who reminded the crowd that in 1967, the Supreme Court went against popular opinion in striking down laws that denied intermarriage between racial groups.

“The Supreme Court said marriage is a civil right,” Sheyman said to applause. “If that’s so, even if a majority doesn’t agree with it, you should vote in favor.”

Sheyman’s remarks drew a rebuke by another audience member who argued that it was wrong to draw a parallel between sex and race because “sexual orientation is by choice.”

“A lot of LGBT people who are here would disagree with you,” Mayfield said.

“At the end of the day, whether you believe race is not as static as sexual orientation, it’s about equal treatment,” attorney Bennett said.

“What about morality?” someone yelled.

“If you don’t agree, that’s totally your choice and perogative,” Bennett said.

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