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Religious activists rally against same-sex marriage, say ‘faith is under attack’

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Updated: November 25, 2013 1:09PM

SPRINGFIELD-Scores of religious activists opposed to same-sex marriage claimed their “faith is under attack” Wednesday by the push to allow gays and lesbians to wed, delivering a high-decibel counterpunch to a massive gay-rights rally at the Capitol earlier in the week.

As many as 2,500 people, waving signs like “Marriage is Sacred” and “Marriage One Man One Woman,” crowded into the Statehouse to keep the heat on the Illinois House and to block passage of the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, which has been stalled since the spring.

“Defend Marriage Lobby Day” began with prayers outside the Capitol, and later included appearances by two GOP gubernatorial hopefuls, a potential U.S. Senate candidate, a chorus of home-schooled children, black and Latino ministers, a self-described ex-lesbian and even an Abraham Lincoln impersonator.

“Our religious freedoms are under attack here. Our faith is under attack here. Where we go to church on Saturday or Sunday is under attack here,” shouted the Rev. Lance Davis, pastor of New Zion Covenant Church in Dolton, bringing many in the crowd to their feet. “And we need to stand up and defend our rights, defend not only our rights, but our own family. And I tell you, God will move on our behalf.”

The crowd at the Illinois Family Institute event was on par with the group of gay-rights activists that converged on the Capitol Tuesday to push for Senate Bill 10, which still appears to be short the necessary votes to get it out of the House this fall and onto Gov. Pat Quinn’s desk.

“Marriage should not be redefined and undermined, but should rather be promoted and protected. Do you agree with me?” yelled David Smith, executive director of the Illinois Family Institute, drawing a roar of “Yes!” from the crowd.

Speaker after speaker at Wednesday’s rally portrayed the debate over the legislation as an epic societal battle pitting what religious activists described as a vocal minority embracing an amoral lifestyle against a God-fearing majority — a debate that could change how future generations view marriage.

“Once homosexual marriage becomes the law of the land here in Illinois, the state and public school system takes over the moral teaching of our children . . . this by forcing acceptance of this dangerous, disease-filled, deviant and dead-end lifestyle as a good choice for our kids,” said Christian activist Jim Finnegan, president of Illinois Choose Life.

Linda Jernigan, a suburban Richton Park activist against the legislation, described herself to the crowd as a former lesbian converted by her faith in Jesus and said that homosexuality, and in particular the ability for gays and lesbians to marry, is “not a civil right.”

“He can change homosexuals,” Jernigan said of Jesus. “So we don’t have to make a law. All we have to do is send homosexuals to Jesus and let Jesus change their desires.”

Two of the four Republican gubernatorial candidates – Sen. Bill Brady (R-Bloomington) and Sen. Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale) – were among the speakers. Treasurer Dan Rutherford and millionaire venture capitalist Bruce Rauner were no-shows.

“We have a job as state legislators to promote the family, and every child in this state, I believe, deserves a mom and a dad,” Dillard said.

Brady expressed a similar sentiment.

“I believe we ought to leave marriage as an institution between a man and a woman,” he said.

Rauner, who has not divulged his personal view on same-sex marriage other than to say it’s an issue voters should decide by referendum, didn’t attend the rally.

“There was no compelling reason for him to be in Springfield,” Rauner spokesman Mike Schrimpf told the Chicago Sun-Times.

A Rutherford spokeswoman said he was unable to attend the rally because he was in McHenry County “for various events through the treasurer’s office.” Before becoming treasurer, Rutherford was the lone Republican state senator to endorse civil unions but has said he opposes same-sex marriage.

State Sen. Jim Oberweis (R-Sugar Grove) spoke at the event, telling the crowd that he is circulating petitions to challenge U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin next year. Oberweis also said he is firmly against Senate Bill 10.

“That I’m here should not be a surprise to anybody,” he said. “I have always supported traditional marriage.”

The legislation’s fate hinges, partly, on the votes of House Legislative Black Caucus members, and the lineup of speakers included two prominent black ministers from the Chicago area: Bishop Larry Trotter, senior pastor at Sweet Holy Spirit Church, and Davis.

The House adjourned Wednesday without taking action on the bill and canceled session Thursday, meaning the earliest state Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), the bill’s chief House sponsor, could seek a roll call would be Nov. 5.

Davis said he thinks he has “60-percent” of the 20-member House black voting bloc in his corner against the bill and said anyone who votes for same-sex marriage can expect a political challenge either in a primary or general election.

“Frankly, we have been meeting behind the scenes and making sure those who are for Senate Bill 10 are those who are on our radar as relates to replacing because they do not speak for the constituency and the majority of our people,” Davis said.

But the day wasn’t entirely devoted to speeches filled with fiery rhetoric.

Mark Zumhagen, a 55-year-old doctor from Monee, came to the rally dressed as Abraham Lincoln, including wearing a trademark stovepipe hat. In that attire, Zumhagen even stopped by the office of Rep. Thaddeus Jones (D-Calumet City) — who has not staked out a public position on the bill — to lobby against the legislation.

“The 16th president made many speeches where he referenced God and God’s justice, and I think he went back to that kind of viewpoint and framework to make his decisions,” Zumhagen said. “And in that light, I think he would be against this bill.”

Twitter: @davemckinney123


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