SPRINGFIELD-With a vote looming in the Illinois House, Rev. James Meeks is taking a stand against same-sex marriage by sending an "emergency message" to Illinois households.
Meeks, pastor of Salem Baptist Church on Chicago's South Side and former state senator, said the pre-recorded call that reached roughly 200,000 households in 14 legislative districts beginning Friday was sent mostly to African-Americans.
"Please listen closely," the message began. "Your state representative in Springfield is under serious pressure to redefine marriage in Illinois. If marriage between one man and one woman is redefined to add same-sex marriage, our family structure, as we know it, is in serious jeopardy.
"While being a member of the General Assembly for the last 10 years, I maintained the fact that this decision is too big for 177 people to make. If we are going to change Illinois, as we know it on such a broad scale, then your voice and input are very much needed."
The National Organization for Marriage, a nonprofit that lobbies for defining marriage between a man and a woman, funded the pre-recorded message. The group's backers include a former law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and a presidential appointee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights.
"Obviously [Meeks is] a very well known figure in the area," said Brian Brown, the organization's president and co-founder. "He's an African-American standing up for the issue. We're very happy he was willing to make the calls and stand up for marriage."
Meeks, who voted against legalizing civil unions in 2010, said the message itself is more important than its origin.
"It really doesn't make a difference personally because my message is for people to exercise their democratic rights to let their lawmakers know what they want them to do," he said. "Lawmakers could either sit in an ivory tower or lawmakers could listen to the people."
The pastor said he doesn't think the Legislature is equipped to handle such an issue and that it should be put up to a referendum. However, the state Constitution says bills must pass through both chambers of the Legislature and be signed by the governor to become law.
"Illinois does not have a referendum process like other states do," said Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), a chief sponsor of the legislation. "This is something that is the responsibility of the Legislature to decide."
Harris said he had heard news of Meeks' message and that it had actually prompted some voters to call their legislators to show support for his bill.
"So this just points out that different faiths view this issue differently, and government is trying to respect both those views," he said.
Since protections were added to allow churches and other religious facilities to refuse to open their doors for same-sex marriages, many clergymen throughout the state have signed an open letter supporting the bill. More than 300 signatures are now attached to the letter, according to gay-marriage coalition Illinois Unites for Marriage.
Leading the effort are two prominent black religious figures in Chicago - the Rev. B. Herbert Martin, former Mayor Harold Washington's minister, and the Rev. Otis Moss III, pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ, which is President Obama's former church on Chicago's South Side.
But Meeks said the letter has had little effect on his position.
"It doesn't affect the way I view [the issue], and the way I view it is that this is a really big decision for Illinois," he said. "It changes fundamentally the way Illinois views marriage."
Meeks also said he hasn't reached out to any of members of the House's black caucus - a group with some members whose votes have not been certain.
"It's important for them to hear from their constituents, not from me," he said. "They need to find out whether or not they have been keeping with the views of the constituents who will vote for them."