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Illinois business leaders endorse gay marriage

Published: Monday, Jan. 14, 2013 10:14 a.m. CDT

(MCT) — Dozens of Illinois business leaders and several companies publicly endorsed gay marriage Sunday in an attempt to reignite the issue after a proposed bill failed to get traction in Springfield this month.

State lawmakers aren't scheduled to be at the Capitol much until early February, and sponsors of a measure to grant gay and lesbian couples the freedom to marry are likely to need some time to win over dozens of rookie colleagues. But in an open letter issued Sunday, business executives stated their case to lawmakers that marriage equality would strengthen the Illinois workforce and boost economic development.

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

In addition to Google, Orbitz Worldwide and Groupon, individual signers of the letter include Desiree Rogers, CEO of Johnson Publishing Co.; Lance Chody, CEO of Garrett Popcorn Shops; Fred Eychaner, chairman of the Newsweb Corp.; and Laura Ricketts, co-owner of the Chicago Cubs. Eychaner and Ricketts are openly gay executives who are helping fund the statewide push for same-sex marriage, the Tribune has reported.

Earlier this month, opposition challenged supporters' optimism. In addition to Chicago's Cardinal Francis George and other Catholic bishops across the state, a coalition of Muslims, Mormons, Missouri Synod Lutherans and conservative Anglicans urged Illinois lawmakers not to extend marriage to same-sex couples.

The bishops and ministers from about 1,700 Illinois congregations and ministries said the attempt to alter the state's definition of marriage threatens an institution that society counts on as the ideal environment for raising children and teaching men and women to depend on each other.

While the bill exempts religious institutions from having to consecrate same-sex marriages, religious leaders worry that it would not protect their rights to freely exercise their religious beliefs because they would have to treat same-sex unions as the equivalent of marriage in their business practices. For example, they might be forced to provide health insurance to an employee's same-sex spouse.

John Rowe, chairman emeritus of Exelon, said attending the same-sex weddings of friends in New York last year convinced him to sign the endorsement.

"We saw how moving it was for them, and I suppose that's part of what caused me to say 'Why deny one group this moment of faith and hope and celebration that everybody else has?'" Rowe said.

The letter contends that states such as New York, where gay marriage is legal, now have a competitive edge over Illinois.

"States with the metro areas of New York City, Seattle, Boston, and Baltimore have already legalized marriage equality," the letter said. "Here in the Midwest, Iowa has granted full marriage equality, while Minnesota is poised to do the same later this year. Illinois simply cannot afford to be less competitive than other states."

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