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Illinois: Gay marriage friends and foes step up their fight

BY NATASHA BARSOTTI — The push to legalize gay marriage in the state of Illinois is facing a fight from the Catholic Church, with Chicago Cardinal Francis George calling on parishioners to register their opposition to plans to introduce the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act after the Senate reconvenes Jan 2, the Chicago Tribune reports.

"Civil laws that establish 'same-sex marriage' create a legal fiction," George and his six auxiliary bishops wrote in a letter sent to priests Jan 1. "The state has no power to create something that nature itself tells us is impossible."

But the Chicago Tribune notes that several people of faith,
including Catholic politicians, disagree. It says that more than 250
Illinois clergy, mostly Protestant and Jewish, endorsed the gay marriage
bill in a letter to legislators. Moreover, the state's governor, Pat
Quinn, and Senator Dick Durbin — both Catholics — have come out in
support of the legislation. 

Meanwhile, Senator Heather Steans, a Chicago Democrat, signalled her intention to call the bill to a vote Jan 3, saying she believed the legislation would pass the current state General Assembly, the report says. 

President Barack Obama has also weighed in on the issue, urging the General Assembly to pass the measure. "Were the President still in the Illinois State Legislature, he would support this measure that would treat all Illinois couples equally," White House spokesperson Shin Inouye told the Chicago Sun-Times Dec 29. During last year's election, Obama supported gay-marriage ballot measures in Maryland, Maine and Washington State, all of which were successful.

"At a certain point I've just concluded that for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married," Obama told ABC News last May.

Illinois's House and Senate have until Jan 9 — when new legislators will be sworn in — to pass the bill, according to the Windy City Times. If that deadline passes without action, the measure's supporters would have to restart their lobbying efforts with new legislators, but they will likely find a sympathetic audience because of a preponderance of Democrats.

Cardinal George's letter also states, "We will all have to pretend to accept something that is contrary to the common sense of the human race. Those who continue to distinguish between genuine marital union and same-sex arrangements will be regarded in law as discriminatory, the equivalent of bigots."

George says the church's Chicago archdiocese is not anti-gay, adding that it has condemned violence and hatred against "homosexually oriented men and women." 

Uganda's parliamentary speaker, Rebecca Kadaga, who has promised passage of anti-gay
legislation that reportedly still includes the death penalty, recently
received a blessing from the pope
the Vatican.

George adds that "the Church welcomes everyone, respects each one personally and gives to each the spiritual means necessary to convert to God's ways and maintain friendship with Christ."

But Chris Pett, president of Dignity Chicago, a Catholic gay rights organization, feels George "missed an opportunity to call for dialogue and engage with the gay community," the Tribune reports. 

"It looks and sounds like, 'We want to care for you. You are part of our family.' But if you should ask for and be the recipient of marriage equality then you're causing harm," Pett says. "I continue to be surprised that they use the same arguments over and over."

George ignited a firestorm in December 2011 when he compared the queer community to groups like the Ku Klux Klan in his objection to Chicago's pride parade going by one of the city's oldest Catholic churches during mass. 

He reiterated the analogy on the website of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

"When the pastor's request for reconsideration of the plans was ignored, the organizers invited an obvious comparison to other groups who have historically attempted to stifle the religious freedom of the Catholic Church. One such organization is the Ku Klux Klan which, well into the 1940s, paraded through American cities not only to interfere with Catholic worship but also to demonstrate that Catholics stand outside of the American consensus. It is not a precedent anyone should want to emulate."  

The parade's start time was adjusted.

George apologized several days later, saying he was "speaking out of fear that I have for the church's liberty and I was reaching for an analogy which was very inappropriate, for which I'm sorry."

Meanwhile, Pope Benedict XVI has used a series of papal statements to speak out against gay unions in the wake of victories for same-sex marriage at the polls during the American election, as well as progress in Europe.

In November, Spain's highest court upheld a gay marriage law; in France, François Hollande's government has unveiled a draft law that would allow gay marriage; the UK has also released its plans to legalize same-sex marriage, which would apply to England and Wales, while Scotland has recently published its own gay marriage bill. 

In one of his messages, entitled "Blessed are the Peacemakers," Pope Benedict
says attempts to grant gay unions the same status as marriage between
men and women "actually harm and help to destabilize marriage, obscuring
its specific nature and its indispensable role in society."  

In a Christmas message to Vatican officials, the pope says, "there is no denying the crisis that threatens [the family] to its foundations — especially in the Western world."

According to Reuters, the pontiff says the family is threatened by "a false understanding of freedom" and the rejection of life-long commitment in heterosexual marriage. 

"When such commitment is repudiated, the key figures of human existence likewise vanish: father, mother, child — essential elements of the experience of being human are lost," he is quoted as saying.

He added that people could not "dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being" and that they could not become "abstract human beings" choosing for themselves what their nature would be. 

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