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Lawmakers shelve marriage fairness

6/1/11           Oak Park/Chicago

Emi Walters Y. Lopez (right) Chicago wait line

6/1/11 Oak Park/Chicago Emi Walters and Y. Lopez (right), of Chicago, wait in line for their Civil Union license with other couples at the Cook County Clerk's Office at the Daley Center on Wednesday, June 1st. | Dan Luedert~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 8, 2013 6:09AM

The Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act will not prevail in the Illinois General Assembly’s lame-duck session.

Last week, after fits, starts and miscues, the proposal survived a Senate committee vote. But the legislative hourglass is nearly empty, and supporters are now pledged to push the bill anew in the spring session.

It’s been a long and winding road to legal marriage for the state’s LGBT community. Let’s take a rest stop to celebrate. Illinois’ Republican officialdom is finally refusing to be held captive to its increasingly irrelevant conservative wing.

The Nov. 6 election exposed the party’s true colors, and it was no rainbow. The GOP took a drubbing, from the top of the ticket to key congressional contests. They once again miserably failed to connect with minority groups such as African Americans, Latinos, gays and lesbians.

Now, they get it. In politics, subtraction is a death wish.

So last week, in a pivotal move that garnered national headlines, Illinois Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady was making calls and twisting arms for marriage equality.

The legislation has his “full support,” Brady said.

“More and more Americans understand that if two people want to make a lifelong commitment to each other, government should not stand in their way,” he told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Bingo. “More and more, Republicans, the reasonable ones, are seeing their party losing over and over again, because they are too right wing,” said Rick Garcia, director of the Civil Rights Agenda’s Equal Marriage Illinois Project.

The beauty part: Brady’s rationale was cherished Republican values. Gay marriage, he said, “honors the best conservative principles. It strengthens families and reinforces a key Republican value ­— that the law should treat all citizens equally.”

Kudos to the brave pioneers who paved the way. Republicans such as Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, a staunch LGBT friend and stalwart regular at Chicago’s Pride Parade. As governor, George Ryan was a leading LGBT rights proponent. State Treasurer Dan Rutherford, formerly a state senator, has been supporting their legislative initiatives since 1993. Rutherford was the only Republican senator to vote for the successful civil unions bill in 2010.

The GOP got religion, but I can’t say the same for my beloved church. The Roman Catholic Church is the new GOP. Cardinal Francis George and his allies of the cloth are urging the flock to reject the marriage equality measure, arguing it will force churches to perform and recognize the marriages of LGBT couples.

The bill may need some fixes, but opponents will eventually lose this fight, like every other major battle for LGBT rights over the past two decades. They are out of step and out of time.

LGBT families share our values and contribute mightily to the public good. Marriage equality is the civil rights movement of the 21st century.

In the 1960s, the movement inspired courageous people of different faiths to speak out for human dignity and justice.

These days, it doesn’t even take courage. Just common sense.

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