SPRINGFIELD -- The first two Illinois House Republicans to publicly back same-sex marriage, both from the suburbs, might help open the door for other GOP supporters to eventually vote for it.
State Rep. Ed Sullivan, a Mundelein Republican, said today he came to his decision gradually and with the help of his family, which includes his gay mother-in-law.
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Sullivan said social issues are decided when a majority in society feels a certain way and said he plans to vote for same-sex marriage legislation even at the risk of political blowback from his party.
"How can we deny these basic rights to our friends and colleagues?" Sullivan said.
Opponents of same-sex marriage, including the Carol Stream-based Illinois Family Institute, have led protests in Springfield that have so far helped keep a vote off the House's agenda.
And today, a national organization opposing same-sex marriage threatened Illinois Republicans who support it.
"Any Republican in Illinois who betrays the cause of marriage will be casting a career-ending vote and will be held accountable to their constituents," said Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage.
Sullivan is a member of the House Republican Leadership team, and his move opened the door for state Rep. Ron Sandack, a Downers Grove Republican, to announce his intentions to back same-sex marriage, too.
"Rank-and-file members tend to defer to leadership," said Sandack.
He said his decision embraces conservative values of family and equality.
"I thought long and hard about this issue," Sandack said.
The issue has divided Republican leadership in Illinois as a bill to legalize same-sex marriage awaits a vote in the Illinois House. The Senate approved same-sex marriage legislation on Valentine's Day.
Illinois GOP Chair Pat Brady of St. Charles has faced possible ouster over his support in a charge largely led by state Sen. Jim Oberweis, a Sugar Grove Republican.
Republicans have largely opposed same-sex marriage, so GOP supporters who oppose the party platform tend to grab headlines. But the Illinois House's months of delay on the issue has been largely because the Democrats who control the chamber aren't united on the issue, either.
Supporters have been claiming momentum by looking to national figures like U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk and a steady stream of U.S. Senate Democrats moving to back same-sex marriage.
"Momentum is on the side of marriage equality," Sullivan said.