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Gay marriage battle for black state rep votes pits cardinal, pastors against Julian Bond

Francis Cardinal George Archdiocese Chicago with members African-American Clergy Coalitions  joopposing  redefinitimarriage legislatinews conference  Friday April 5

Francis Cardinal George of the Archdiocese of Chicago with members of African-American Clergy Coalitions join in opposing redefinition of marriage legislation at news conference , Friday, April 5, 2013. | John H. White~Sun-Times

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Updated: May 7, 2013 6:09AM

The battle for the potentially pivotal votes of African American legislators on a bill to legalize gay marriage in Illinois intensified Friday — as opponents and proponents alike pulled out the big guns.

Leading the opposition, Cardinal Francis George and a group of black ministers launched an aggressive campaign against same-sex marriage to be waged through radio commercials and telephone calls.

Weighing in on the other side, national civil rights leader Julian Bond sent a letter urging legislators to grant equal rights to “my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.”

George met with prominent Chicago area black pastors and bishops in a closed-door meeting Friday to hash out plans that include encouraging thousands of parishioners to call legislators Monday morning. The meeting included the Rev. James Meeks, Bishop Larry Trotter and Pastor Byron Brazier, among several others after a news conference at the Archbishop Quigley Seminary.

Sean Howard, spokesman for the African American Clergy Coalition, called the plan an “aggressive street campaign,” which will encourage at least 100 pastors to get their congregants to call the 20 Black Caucus members on Monday.

Pastors also recorded a new radio commercial in the archdiocese studio on Friday, Howard said, and will be stepping up automated robocalls voiced by Meeks and aimed at African-American households.

“The concern that is focused now is the effort to legally destabilize the meaning of marriage, which will not serve the common good of our people and will certainly lose the sense of family,” George said.

A day earlier, 13 other black pastors took the opposite view, voicing their support of same-sex marriage, calling it a question of civil rights and not religion.

Trotter of New Century Fellowship International, which has 8,000 congregants, called the national debate over gay marriage one that has created a “great ripple across the faith community.” To change the institution of marriage is “morally wrong and incorrect,” Trotter said.

The African American Clergy Coalition plans to encourage Catholic and Lutheran priests to join their plight within the coming weeks.

But advocates scored an important endorsement Friday in their bid to win over black Illinois House members, who may hold the key in determining whether legislation legalizing gay marriage passes.

Bond, chairman of the NAACP from 1998 to 2009, signed a letter of support that went out to the Illinois House, which could take up the legislation next week.

“I’ve experienced the joys of marriage for more than 20 years. My wife, Pamela, and I stood before our friends and family and made a lifelong commitment to one another. We’ve taken care of each other ever since,” the civil rights leader and long-standing backer of gay marriage said in his letter.

“My gay and lesbian brothers and sisters simply want the freedom to make that same commitment,” Bond said. “And they deserve the same protection that my wife and I have. It’s just that simple.”

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