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Ex-Marine Sergeant Pushes for Gay Marriage in Illinois

 An effort to legalize same-sex marriage in Illinois is being pushed in the Legislature.
An effort to legalize same-sex marriage in Illinois is being pushed in the Legislature.
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BRONZEVILLE — Marquell Smith, a Bronzeville Marine Corps veteran, has sent an open letter to members of the Illinois House Black Caucus asking for their support for gay marriage.

"I learned that the struggles of our people are a symbol of hope for those being discriminated against," Smith said. "We cannot let an important vehicle of past struggles — African-American churches — become the gatekeepers of the rights to dignity of others."

Smith, a gay man, said he learned firsthand what "separate but equal feels like" when he was discharged from the military under the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

"It felt awful," Smith said.

Smith said same-sex marriage is a civil rights issue.

"Black folks did not want anyone’s permission to live freely; we cannot rest until this dream is realized for everyone," Smith said.

A Sun-Times survey of the House Black Caucus earlier this week found that four members of the 20-member group said they would vote for a measure to allow gay marriage, five others said they were "leaning" toward voting "yes," seven were undecided and four were opposed.

Gov. Patrick Quinn recently said legalizing same-sex marriage was a priority for his administration.

Bernard Cherkasov, an Equality Illinois spokesman, said the letter came at a time where, "People from all walks of life are coming down to show support."

Cherkasov said Smith had been involved in the effort for a while.

No date has been set for a vote in the House, but Cherkasov expects the vote to come before the General Assembly adjourns on May 31.

"Now is the time. There is no better time to pass the bill," Cherkasov said.