On Tuesday, March 18, three Illinois politicians who had previously voted in favor of marriage equality won the Republican primary election.
In the fall of 2013, three representatives—Minority Leader Tom Cross, Ron Sandack (R-Downers Grove), and Ed Sullivan (R-Mundelein)—were the only Republicans in the House to vote in favor of the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act. Political opponents responded with homophobic attack ads, such as the one by Keith Matune, who put out a mailer that pictured two men kissing and the words “You can kiss the GOP good-bye with officials who vote like Democrats.”
Matune, who was running against Sandack, narrowly lost to him in the race for the 81st Illinois House seat. Cross, running against DuPage County Auditor Bob Grogan, won for State Treasurer, and Sullivan easily beat the treasurer of the Lake County Republican Party, Bob Bednar, for re-nomination in Illinois District 51.
On March 19, Sandack said, “I expected it to be close,” according to Chicago Pride. “This was an extremely difficult race. There were clear issues of divide. I’ve been trying to expand the party’s base and get more people into the party and focus on the issues that affect all families, which is the financial future of the state.”
In light of the anti-gay attack ads, marriage equality activists all over the nation were watching the election very closely. LGBT rights advocate Kevin Boyer told Chicago Pride, “After we won marriage equality last fall, we knew that anti-gay extremists would try and punish an incumbent or two and stop our nationwide momentum. The stakes were high and they tried, and failed.
“If you are a state legislator [and]want to vote for equality, but worry that you will be targeted, this is yet another example of how we will have our back. The LGBT and allied community rallied around those incumbents and helped tell the real story of their courageous vote.”
Boyer was an organizer for the “Protect Our Friends Project,” run by Equality Illinois and Equality Illinois PAC, that reached potential voters by phone to bolster support for pro-equality politicians.
Also speaking to Chicago Pride, the CEO of Equality Illinois, Bernard Cherkasov, said “Passing the marriage bill was a historic undertaking, and defending our pro-marriage lawmakers required an equally forceful effort. I am so proud that Equality Illinois led that focused, disciplined, and aggressive campaign. Just look at the results: despite the efforts of our very well-funded and organized opponents, we ensured that not a single lawmaker, Democrat or Republican, lost her or his seat because of the vote in favor of marriage equality.”
Another politician that was up against a primary challenger due to his vote in favor of marriage equality was Representative Christian Mitchell, a Democrat, who became the target of an anti-gay political campaign by South Side pastors. The election was close, but he was able to win against Jhatayn “Jay” Travis for the 26th District seat.
However, another winner of GOP primary was Susanne Atanus, who beat David Earl Williams III yesterday in the race for Illinois’ 9th Congressional District. In January, she told the Daily Herald, “God is angry. We are provoking him with abortions and same-sex marriage and civil unions. Same-sex activity is going to increase AIDS. If it’s in our military it will weaken our military. We need to respect God.” She also claimed tornadoes, autism, and dementia are divine punishment for LGBT rights laws and legal abortion.
Cherkasov added, “We are now looking forward to rolling out our strategic statewide program for the general election. The stakes are even higher in November, and Equality Illinois will continue to protect our rights.”