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Zion church at center of gay marriage opposition

Keith Turner (center) Waukegan spoke townhall meeting North Chicago Public Library Monday about gay marriage legislatipassed by Illinois Senate which

Keith Turner (center) of Waukegan spoke at a townhall meeting at the North Chicago Public Library on Monday about gay marriage legislation passed by the Illinois Senate which will now be voted on by the House. | Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: May 6, 2013 2:13AM

The largest and loudest faction at a fiery forum on gay marriage in the 60th House District arrived from an unexpected place — a church in Zion, which lies outside the district.

The townhall held Monday, March 4, in North Chicago by state Rep. Rita Mayfield, D-Waukegan, was heavily skewed toward marriage for straight couples only.

The majority, many of them youngsters, held up signs and wore T-shirts denouncing Senate Bill 10, the bill that could make Illinois the 10th state in the nation to legalize gay marriage.

Mayfield, who called the townhall to “educate constituents” on the bill, which was passed by the Illinois Senate on Valentine’s Day and is now headed for a vote in the House, said that while the church is located in Zion, many of its members hail from her district.

“Our sign-in sheet did not reflect Zion addresses,” Mayfield said.

“The majority of the people there were from Waukegan and the Gurnee part of my district.”

Likewise, Mayfield said that the 250 calls she fielded over the weekend from people incensed by an ad in favor of SB10, placed by Illinois Unites for Marriage in the Lake County News-Sun on March 1, were from constituents who left their names and addresses, “who didn’t even mention religion, who said ‘Please vote no.’”

Illinois Unites insists the turnout at Mayfield’s townhall is not an accurate reflection of public opinion for SB10.

The group commissioned a telephone poll in February that show that 54 percent of Democrats in the 60th District support the measure, while 77 percent of Republicans oppose it.

Overall support, the poll found, increased from 41 to 46 percent when participants were informed that the bill offers the same legal rights and protections afforded to other married couples.

Church of Joy Pastor Luis Reyes, who attended the Monday meeting but let his members, including one who said sexual orientation was a matter of choice, do the talking, declined to comment on his church’s participation.

As the meeting came to a close, Church of Joy Associate Pastor Jordan Jones, 31, said it was important for the church, which hosts popular outreach ministries for youth, to participate.

“We have to protect that generation,” Jones said. “This is going to get into the DNA.”

Another pastor, Rev. Chris Fox, of First Congregational United Church of Christ in Waukegan, who staked out one corner of the townhall with other people in favor of marriage equality, argued Church of Joy was wrong to barge in.

“It’s so sad that you bring your people out to preach a message of intolerance and bigotry and hatred,” Fox said.

“Behind the people who are so adamantly voicing opposition is ignorance and fear. I’m thinking there had to be one or two gay children in that group.”

The 150 or so people who packed a room in the North Chicago library for the meeting were sharply divided on SB10 that, according to ACLU attorney Khadine Bennett, “offers same-sex couples the full rights, benefits and responsibilities of civil marriage.”

Rev. Robert Richards, pastor of New Way of Life COGIC in Waukegan, called the parenting of children by same-sex couples “a devastation to the family and to the future.”

Jesse Ritter and Mel Robson, a lesbian couple from Gurnee who brought their 7-week-old son Landon, cooing in his carrier, said they have to haul adoption papers everywhere they go. Under current state law, Robson must legally adopt any children birthed by Ritter.

“Connecting parents to their children,” Ritter said. “That’s all we want to do.”

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