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Key House Republican backs gay-marriage bill, cites 'evolution of thought'

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WA25HEALTH07_17685245.JPGState Rep. Ed Sullivan (R-Mundelein), pictured on the right in this 2010 file photo, says he'll vote for same-sex marriage legislation and frames the issue as one of "equality, fairness and dignity." (Sun-Times Media Group Photo by Thomas Delany Jr./tdelany@stmedianetwork.com)

SPRINGFIELD-State Rep. Ed Sullivan is Roman Catholic and voted against legalizing civil unions for gays and lesbians in 2010, yet he declared himself a "yes" vote Monday for same-sex marriage in Illinois.

Sullivan (R-Mundelein), a six-term member of House Minority Leader Tom Cross' leadership team, chalked up his vote on the issue to an "evolution of thought" driven by having a lesbian mother-in-law in a committed relationship of 20 years with her partner.

"I have a four- and five-year-old who don't understand the issue. They understatnd their grandmother is someone who loves them, buys them things for Christmas, and they understand her partner, Pat, is there at Christmas time," Sullivan said in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times.

"As a parent, it's my job to teach my children right and wrong. How do I vote against this bill and go back to my children and say, 'I think there is something wrong about their grandmother'?" Sullivan said.

His mother in law is Maryanne O'Keeffe, who resides in the southwest suburbs.

"I think, as Americans, we believe in equality. We believe in equality, fairness and dignity. And how can you say you believe in those things and deny the same fundamental right to someone else that you have as a married couple?" Sullivan said.

His stance runs counter with Cardinal Francis George, who last Friday urged state lawmakers to reject the same-sex marriage when it comes to a vote. Allowing gays and lesbians to legally marry, George said, "would destabilize the meaning of marriage" in Illinois.

Sullivan said he does not worry about the possibility of backlash from George or others within the church.

"The church I believe in is a church of love, and a church of understanding, and a church that respects of all points of views. That's the church I belong to," Sullivan said.

The battle for votes on the same-sex marriage legislation is focused on black and Republican House members. Last week, the Sun-Times reported the likelihood of between three and five House Republicans voting for bill, which is sponsored by state Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago).

Sullivan becomes the second House Republican to openly support the bill. His backing was announced Monday morning by Equality Illinois, an advocacy group for gays and lesbians pushing for Harris' legislation.

"Rep Sullivan's support for marriage honors the founding Republican principles of individual freedoms and the government not limiting private lives," Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois, said in a prepared statement. "I know that his constituents and fair-minded Illinoisans everywhere are very proud of him."

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