Jesse Tyler Ferguson in Chicago to support same sex marriage bill

January 2, 2013 4:13:23 PM PST
Legislators are set to consider a bill that would legalize same sex marriage in Illinois, but not without a major debate that has garnered the attention of celebrities.

Jesse Tyler Ferguson of the ABC show "Modern Family" is joining the political fight over gay marriage in Illinois.

The actor is openly gay.

He portrays a gay character on the sitcom and joined Lt. Governor Sheila Simon at the Thompson Center on Wednesday morning to launch "Marriage Equality Days of Action" in support of the bill. Thursday, Ferguson will head to Springfield to do some lobbying.

The actor founded a not-for-profit organization called "Tie the Knot" that sells limited edition bow ties, with proceeds going to charitable organizations that support same sex marriage.

Ferguson and his fiancé partnered with Naperville company The Tie Bar to make a line of bow ties with proceeds going toward marriage equity efforts. Their most recent tie is formal tie meant to be worn at a wedding.

"I certainly respect everyone's right to their opinion but I think at the end of the day we all have to agree that treating any American as a second class citizen is not okay," said Ferguson.

"We are calling on all of us and our extended family to call on their legislators and really move Illinois forward," said Simon.

Sen. Heather Steans, a Chicago Democrat, told The Associated Press Monday she has enough votes to move the measure, which would remove from state law a prohibition on marriage between two people of the same sex, but didn't know when she would call it. She did not immediately return a phone call Wednesday.

She and Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, the House sponsor, say their legislation would not affect any religious beliefs and religious organizations would not have to recognize or consecrate gay marriage.

"This is civil marriage we're talking about for same-sex couples. No faith, no religion that does not want to consecrate or solemnize a union will have to do so," said Steans.

On Tuesday, Cardinal Francis George sent a letter to parishes around the archdiocese arguing against gay marriage.

In part, the letter read:

"It is physically impossible for two men or two women to consummate a marriage, even when they share a deep friendship or love. The State has no power to create something that nature itself tells us is impossible."

Chicago-area Catholics reacted to the letter.

"What he has to say and what he has to write about I think will affect many many many many people," said Pat Holohan.

"I would say that when there's a disagreement like this between the church and the state that it's very hard," said Marlene Robin. "I think it's very difficult."

The Cardinal recently made similar comments to ABC7.

"The problem is with what reason tells us, not with what the faith tells us or even what the law tells us. It goes back to what is nature telling us?" Cardinal George said on December 10.

Some faith-based organizations are in sync with Cardinal George and fiercely oppose the bill.

"We applaud his leadership... This is a very important, fundamental building block institution that we should not tamper with and not try to experiment with," said David E. Smith, Illinois Family Institute.

Meanwhile, the state's Catholic governor supports the bill, and so do others involved in the civil landscape.

"The state is the one who issues the marriage certificate, which is a legal document. And therefore, it is a matter of the state to legislate," said Anthony Martinez, executive director, The Civil Rights Agenda.

"I would not want to in any way say the Catholic Church needs to change what their belief system is at all. And this does protect that. That's very intentional," Steans said.

If the measure becomes law, Illinois would become the 10th state in the nation to recognize same-sex marriage.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.