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updated: 1/14/2013 5:56 PM

Business leaders voice support for gay marriage

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By Kerry Lester
Political Editor
klester@dailyherald.com

A number of Illinois businesses and their leaders have banded together to write an "open letter" in support of gay marriage in an attempt to reestablish the issue as a priority in the new legislative session.

"Marriage equality would strengthen the workforces of Illinois employers," said the letter, which was released Sunday and signed by 52 businesses or their leaders, including Navistar in Lisle and ComEd, which has offices in Oak Brook.

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"To be competitive, a state must create an equitable, fair and respectful environment for all of its citizens," the letter continued. "For this reason -- among others -- it is vitally important that Illinois lawmakers enact marriage equality soon."

In addition to Navistar and ComEd, signers of the letter include Google, Groupon, the Chicago Urban League, Digitas Regional Director Tony Weisman, and Chicago Cubs co-owner Laura Ricketts.

Absent, however, is the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.

"It's just not our issue," Director Doug Whitely said Monday. "We can't lead every parade."

Proposed legislation to legalize gay marriage failed to move earlier this month at the tail end of the veto session. The Chicago Archdiocese's Catholic Cardinal Francis George and a coalition of Muslim, Mormon, Missouri Synod Lutheran and Anglican leaders representing 1,700 Illinois religious groups sent a letter earlier this month to the state's 177 lawmakers, asking them not to view marriage as "an emotional bond between any two adults."

If passed by the legislature, Illinois would become the 10th state to legalize gay marriage. The legislation would not force churches to perform same-sex marriages, but religious leaders say their religious freedoms could be infringed upon if they were required to treat gay couples in the same manner as heterosexual couples in terms of health care privileges and adoption rights.

Weisman, who has personally supported gay marriage for years, said he had no qualms about signing the letter as a business professional.

"I'm involved in a very competitive war for talent. I see every day the battle for the really good people," he said. "I want to give people as many reasons to work for me as possible."

Still, some lawmakers with business backgrounds say the issue should be put on the back burner.

"There should be a civil debate," said state Rep. David McSweeney, a Barrington Hills Republican who is against gay marriage. "But if people want to talk priorities, lets talk about the pension mess."

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