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Clergy members advocate for gay marriage

CHICAGO (AP) – The fight to legalize gay marriage in Illinois received another boost Sunday, with an open letter from more than 200 pastors and rabbis in the state saying marriage rights for all people is a matter of justice and equality.

The group planned to send the letter to lawmakers, who are expected to take up the matter when they reconvene early next month in Springfield.

“The sacred writings and traditions that we follow carry the messages of love, justice and inclusion. The very basis of marriage is to protect the family, strengthen our communities and advocate compassion,” the letter reads. “No couple should be excluded from that.”

Advocates for gay marriage have been ramping up pressure in recent weeks, saying that public opinion is rapidly shifting in favor of same-sex marriages. Four states voted in favor of the issue or opposed a ban on it in November.

Two Chicago Democrats – state Rep. Greg Harris and state Sen. Heather Steans – have said they’ll call for a vote on gay marriage legislation when lawmakers gather in early January for what’s expected to be a busy session. Lawmakers are expected to also consider other major issues, such as a pension overhaul, driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants and medical marijuana.

The gay marriage legislation, called the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, would offer same-sex couples the right to marry, which is currently only available to heterosexual couples. Gov. Pat Quinn, supported civil unions, which became legal in Illinois last year. The Chicago Democrat has said he hopes the bill moves through the General Assembly in January.

The letter is signed by hundreds of religious leaders, most of them from the Chicago area, who say their support is as individual and not on behalf of their houses of worship. Among the supporters are pastors from several Christian denominations, nuns and leaders of synagogues. They argue that the marriage act won’t require any religious institution to perform a marriage with which it doesn’t agree.

“There are differences among our many religious traditions. Some recognize and bless same-sex unions, and some do not,” the letter says. “The important thing is that the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act protects religious freedom and guarantees that all faiths will decide which marriages should be consecrated and solemnized within their tradition.”

However, not all religious groups agree.

The Catholic Conference of Illinois, which represents nearly 4 million Catholics in the state, is lining up opposition to the legislation. The group has argued that “same-sex marriage goes against nature.”

Advocacy groups have also backed the push for gay marriage in Illinois. Earlier this year, Lambda Legal helped dozens of same-sex couples file lawsuits over a same-sex marriage ban.

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