Mundelein mayor defends controversial remarks on gay marriage

Mundelein Mayor Steve Lentz on Monday defended widely criticized comments he made about the legalization of gay marriage and other societal issues during an Independence Day speech.

"If people are curious about what I said, go listen to it," Lentz said of the 11-minute speech, which can be found on YouTube and Facebook.

Near the midpoint of his remarks Saturday morning at the village's Fort Hill Heritage Center, Lentz said he wanted to "address the elephant in the room" and started talking about the Supreme Court's recent ruling on marriage equality.

He called it one event in an ongoing "moral crisis" in the U.S.

Lentz went on to discuss people having children without being married, saying "the out-of-wedlock birthrate is just crazy high compared to our history." Such parents are part of a "crisis against the family" in the U.S., Lentz said.

He then defended Prohibition, saying, "It's just what the doctor ordered."

"Our country needed to sober up," Lentz said.

Mundelein residents and social media users have blasted Lentz in the days since the speech, calling the remarks offensive. Some want him to resign.

"I am utterly and completely hurt about this," Mundelein resident Charlene Hill said on Lentz's Facebook page. "To say the world is (suffering) because of single moms, unwed mothers, gay marriage and alcoholic parents is distasteful and you should be ashamed."

Mundelein resident Deborah Barnes was similarly irate.

"Why single mothers, alcoholics and members of the gay community were even topics chosen for a July Fourth speech is beyond me," Barnes wrote on Facebook. "Shame on you as a political official to use that venue as a sounding board for your beliefs."

But Lentz had supporters on Facebook, too.

"I listened to the entire speech. It sounded perfectly acceptable," Facebook user Peter Reese said. "He spoke the truth, stated facts and shared from his heart his hopes for our troubled nation."

Mundelein-area resident Glenn Garamoni, a former candidate for Fremont Township supervisor, called it a "ridiculous and unfounded controversy."

As talk of Lentz's remarks spread through the community, the mayor took to his own Facebook page Sunday to deal with the controversy. He even posted an audio recording of the speech there.

"I am saddened to learn that my remarks yesterday at the Fort Hill Heritage Museum have been misconstrued into hurtful accusations," Lentz wrote. "Suffice to say, no offense was intended."

Lentz specifically addressed the part of the speech in which he talked about unmarried parents.

"Please know, I would be among the first to honor the single parents in our community who are working tirelessly to support their households and sacrifice for their children," Lentz said. "Nothing I said was intended to disparage single parents, and it grieves me to hear that others spun my words to imply that I said otherwise."

He did not, however, respond to the critics who were upset about his remarks regarding the gay marriage ruling.

Some people who support gay rights protested Lentz's remarks at Sunday's Mundelein Community Days parade. Some held signs in support of gay rights or rainbow-colored flags. Others turned their backs as Lentz passed.

When specifically asked by the Daily Herald if he wanted to address the backlash to that part of his speech, Lentz declined.

"I'd only ask the people listen to the speech online," he said.

Lentz wouldn't comment about the people calling for his resignation, either.

Some of Mundelein's board members shared their opinions of the issue Monday.

Trustee Dawn Abernathy defended Lentz's right to express his political opinions but said the comments were out of place for a public speech on Independence Day.

"I would never have addressed any of those issues during a Fourth of July speech," Abernathy said.

Trustee Holly Kim, who was at the Fort Hill event and heard Lentz's remarks live, took a similar stance, saying the topics were "inappropriate for the venue."

This is the latest political controversy in Mundelein. Last month, Trustee Dakotah Norton was in the spotlight after a DUI arrest and revelations about his criminal history. Lentz was among the elected officials calling for Norton's resignation.

Norton remains on the board.

When asked about Lentz's speech, Norton said he was personally offended and called the remarks "wholly inappropriate" for the event.

Last year, the village board removed planning and zoning commissioner Ray Ladewig from that advisory panel after he made critical comments about village staffers. Lentz led the push to fire Ladewig.

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