More than 250 Illinois clergy — most of them in the Chicago area — have endorsed a gay marriage bill that could come up for a vote in Springfield before Jan. 9.
On Sunday, rabbis and pastors from denominations that support gay rights in varying degrees unveiled a declaration supporting equality for same-sex couples. Fostering faith, justice and compassion is a key component of their jobs, they said.
"Standing on these beliefs, we think that it is morally just to grant equal opportunities and responsibilities to loving, committed same-sex couples," the declaration stated. "There can be no justification for the law treating people differently on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity."
Earlier this month, Sen. Heather Steans and Rep. Greg Harris announced they would take up the measure as the current General Assembly winds down in January and before a new set of lawmakers is sworn in Jan. 9.
The legislation would allow same-sex marriage and protect the right of religious institutions to either consecrate or not consecrate such weddings. Opponents say gay marriage violates Scripture, natural law and basic moral principles.
"We believe all Illinois couples should have the same civil protections and urge our public officials to support measures to achieve equality," the statement said.
Catholics and pastors of predominantly African-American conservative congregations were absent from the list of clergy who signed the statement.
Robert Gilligan, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois, said a separate coalition of leaders from those religious groups would issue a letter in January explaining their opposition.
He noted that the Episcopal, Lutheran and Presbyterian clergy who signed the declaration belong to denominations in which not all leaders agree about gay marriage.
"Some ministers out there would conclude our position is just right," Gilligan said. "Everyone in the hierarchy and clergy are (in agreement). We're talking about more than people in the pews."
Gilligan added that opposition to gay marriage is rooted in more than religious teachings. It's a basic part of human nature, he said.
"The reason we're so vocal about laws that unite more than man and woman in marriage is it's (contrary) to human nature," Gilligan said.
Sunday's statement acknowledged that not all faith communities are of one mind.
"There are differences among our many religious traditions," it said. "Some recognize and bless same-sex unions, and some do not. The important thing is that the Religious Freedom Protection and Marriage Fairness Act protects religious freedom and guarantees that all faiths will decide which marriages should be consecrated and solemnized within their tradition."
The Rev. Kevin Tindell, a pastor at New Dimensions Chicago, a nondenominational church on Chicago's South Side, said his moral principles inspire him to support the measure.
"We all deserve the human right to be happy," Tindell said. "It has nothing to do with natural order and everything to do with support, family and love."