Quick Hit Ashlee Rezin Monday May 6th, 2013, 3:01pm

Protesters On Both Sides Of Marriage Equality Issue Converge At Rep. Sandack's Office (VIDEO)

State Rep. Ron Sandack (R-Downers Grove), one of two Republicans in the Illinois House to publicly express support for same-sex marriage, defended his position Saturday in front of rival organizations demonstrating outside his office.

Activist groups from both sides of the issue gathered to condemn or cheer on Sandack, who in February declared his support for the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, SB 10.

The bill, which would make Illinois the 11th state to legalize same-sex marriage, passed in the Senate on February 14 and has drawn support from Gov. Pat Quinn. Having been approved by the House Executive Committee on February 26, it is awaiting a vote by the full House.

“With respect to the bill, if it’s called, I’m going to vote in favor of marriage equality,” Sandack said.

The freshman representative’s stance has drawn criticism from the Illinois Family Institute (IFI), a conservative, Christian non-profit organization affiliated with the American Family Association.

IFI organized Saturday’s 11 a.m. rally in the hopes of encouraging Sandack to reconsider his position. The Civil Rights Agenda (TCRA) and the Gay Liberation Network (GLN) organized counter demonstrations. Collectively, the protests brought approximately 300 people to the steps of Sandack’s office, with the majority supporting IFI.

According David Smith, executive director of IFI, voting in favor of same-sex marriage will cost Sandack votes.

“I didn’t go to Springfield to just play defense and take votes that were safe and easy, I went down there with a conscious,” Sandack said, referring to whether his vote would cost him politically. “I believe that marriage equality is frankly what my constituency wants. If it ends up not being what they want, I lose [the next election] with my head perfectly held high and my conscious clear.”

He said his fellow Republicans may “regret” not taking the same position.

Here’s more from Sandack:

According to Andy Thayer, 53, co-founder of GLN, Sandack is on the “right side of history”, which “takes real courage.”

“The fight out here is not just about equal marriage rights, as important as that is for many couples. It’s also about finally allowing LGBT people to become full citizens in the United States,” he said.

Thayer added that although Republican approval is increasingly important, passage of the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act is not solely a Republican issue. He called on House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) to ramp up efforts to push marriage equality through the chamber.

"If Mike Madigan wanted marriage equality, truely, truely, he would put the same kind of effort behind it as he has the pension issues and other things that are high on his agenda," Thayer said.

Madigan has said the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act remains shy of about a dozen votes for approval, but the bill’s main sponsor, State Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), said he is optimistic the 60 votes will come through, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Thayer added he and his boyfriend, Aldo, have discussed getting married if the measure passes, but will not get a civil union because he will not accept the concept of being “separate, but equal.”

Illinois legalized civil unions in 2011, granting same-sex couples some of the same rights and benefits granted to married couples in the state. But civil unions do not provide rights and benefits under federal law, unlike opposite-sex marriages.

The 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) defines a “spouse” as “a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife” and thus must be interpreted that way by federal agencies.  As such, partners in civil unions do not qualify for things like survivor’s benefits from Social Security. Additionally, the legal privileges gained in a civil union are only recognized in the states in which they are performed.

“I will not demean my humanity by lowering myself to a different standard,” Thayer said. “I’m entitled to the same rights as everyone else.”

Here’s more from Thayer and Saturday’s protest:

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in March on two cases that challenge the constitutionality of DOMA and California’s Proposition 8, which both ban same-sex marriage.

The Supreme Court could announce decisions on the cases sometime in June.

Meanwhile, supporters of IFI argue that marriage should remain as an institution that is between one man and one woman, saying it provides an “ideal” environment for children.

“Homosexual couples are not equal to heterosexual couples, those who can procreate are not equal to those who cannot procreate ... They have a right to a relationship, but they don’t have the right to call it marriage — it’s not marriage,” said David Smith, 43, a married father of six and executive director of the IFI.

Majority of IFI’s protesters prayed during Saturday’s demonstration and held signs quoting bible scriptures.

But several priests supporting IFI’s rival organizations advocated for the separation of church and state.

“This is not a religious issue,” said Rev. Kirk Moore of St. Paul’s United Church of Christ in Downers Grove.

Moore said he would sign a marriage license “in a heartbeat.” He currently conducts civil unions and performs same-sex marriages in the absence of a formal license.

“As a congregation we support equality because it’s the right thing to do,” he said.

“People who love each other ought to be able to show their love for each other and have all the rights that any other couple has.”

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