'Modern Family' Star Stops in Chicago to Back Illinois Gay Marriage Bill

By Quinn Ford on January 2, 2013 1:26pm | Updated on January 2, 2013 3:45pm

THE LOOP — Appearing in Chicago, actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson of the ABC comedy "Modern Family" urged Illinois residents who support gay marriage to wear bow ties on Thursday.

The sitcom star, on his way to Springfield to call on lawmakers to legalize gay marriage in Illinois, was joined Wednesday by Illinois Lt. Gov. Shelia Simon.

Lawmakers have yet to call the bill, known as the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, for a vote in either house, but there is a push to get it passed before the new General Assembly is sworn in next week.

Ferguson, who plays Mitchell, a gay character on the sitcom, said seeing President Barack Obama publicly back gay marriage inspired him to take action.

Ferguson is a co-founder of the "Tie the Knot" foundation which advocates for gay marriage in the U.S.

"We're calling for all those who support marriage equality to show up in bow ties," Ferguson said. "We're supporting all citizens in Illinois to wear a bow tie to work or to school and show their support of marriage equality."

Simon said lawmakers should pass the bill, in part, because "I think a majority of Illinoisans do favor it.

"Polls have shown that not only is it a majority but moving in a way toward favoring marriage equality in very quick fashion," she said.

When asked why the matter should not be decided by a state referendum, Simon said it is the job of legislators to pass laws.

"This is not a new issue, and it's something that's been gaining momentum in other states," Simon said. "I think it's time to say we're not going to wait any more for equality in Illinois."

When asked to comment on those who oppose the bill, Ferguson laughed uneasily.

"I don't know what to say. This is not my wheelhouse," he said about politics.

But Ferguson, who is gay and engaged to be married, said "Treating any American as a second-class citizen is just not OK."

Ferguson and Simon agreed that popular culture and television have helped shaped the issue. Ferguson said he hoped "Modern Family" has helped some viewers who are uncomfortable with gay marriage become more familiar with it.

"I think it's a bit like a Trojan horse," Ferguson said.

Simon and Ferguson were joined by state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, a sponsor of the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act. 

"Hopefully, a full roll call will come in the Senate [Thursday] which will tee the bill up for [the Illinois House] when we go back into session next week," said Cassidy.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill into law last January that legalized civil unions in the state.

Those opposed to gay marriage in Illinois have also ramped up: Cardinal Francis George, in a letter to Chicago area Catholics, said allowing gay marriage would be "acting against the common good of society."

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