Illinois Marriage Equality Opposition Dominated By Hate Group’s Harsh Rhetoric

In many of the states that have waged marriage equality fights recently, opponents have often coalesced around a coalition consisting of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), the state’s Catholic conference, and the state’s “family policy council” affiliate of the Family Research Council. In Illinois, however, these typical players have not united in the same way, seemingly in part because the state social conservative group is the Illinois Family Institute (IFI), a hate group in its own right associated with the American Family Association.

IFI’s rhetoric is quite a bit more brazen than what anti-gay groups have used in other states, which may have scared away its would-be allies. As a telling example, NOM posted pictures from an IFI rally last week, but didn’t mention the organization by name nor link to its own post about the rally. Otherwise, NOM’s rhetoric has mostly been limited to threats of retribution against Republicans who might support marriage equality. The Illinois Catholic Conference has issued its own materials opposing marriage equality, and Springfield Bishop Thomas John Paprocki has made his share of negative comments, but there seems to be no coordination with IFI.

Today marks three months since the Illinois Senate passed the marriage equality bill, and with only three weeks left for the House to pass it, here’s a look at some of IFI’s rhetoric that is dominating the opposition:

  • Today, IFI posted numerous photos from its rally this weekend, including a sign that reads, “The crime against nature will never be equal.”
  • Speakers at the rally included ex-gay advocate Linda Jernigan and another hate group leader, Peter LaBarbera, who told the crowd that homosexuality is “unnatural and wrong,” citing HIV rates among men who have sex with men as evidence of “the dangers of homosexuality.”
  • In February, IFI’s Laurie Higgins wrote that gay people shouldn’t even be allowed to teach because they’ll put pictures of their partners on their desk that students will see.
  • In fact, IFI believes that parents should pull their children from any classroom that attempts to create a safe environment for LGBT students.
  • IFI has claimed gays and lesbians already have equality because they can marry the opposite sex like everyone else; same-sex marriage is thus a demand “to be treated specially.”
  • IFI recommends language that demonizes the gay community, encouraging opponents of equality to frame their resistance as compassion.

This extreme rhetoric extends beyond the talking points conservatives have traditionally used in these fights, which tend to focus on supposed protections for children, gender norms, and the institution of marriage. By openly condemning homosexuality as unnatural and curable through therapy — as well as enabling the bullying of LGBT youth — IFI sets itself apart. It remains unclear how many votes short the Illinois House is from passage or what is motivating those opponents, but with IFI’s strong presence in the fight, opponents’ will struggle to deliver a cohesive or approachable argument as the vote approaches.