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Ernie Banks, Brendon Ayanbadejo among sports stars backing marriage equality in Illinois

Chicago Cubs legend Ernie "Mr. Cub" Banks joined other celebrated Chicago athletes in support for extending the freedom to marry to gay and lesbian couples in Illinois.

Ernie Banks in the Chicago Pride Parade, 2010 :: anthony meade
Ernie Banks in the Chicago Pride Parade, 2010 
credit :: anthony meade
Banks, along with three other sports stars, voiced support in an open letter urging the Illinois House of Representatives to approve the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, which has already been approved in the Illinois Senate and has the support of Gov. Pat Quinn. 

The athletes wrote that, "treating any group of people as second-class citizens hurts us all, because discrimination is wrong no matter whom the target is."

"We come from a variety of backgrounds, and we have played different sports for different teams. But one thing that binds us together is our belief in the importance of fairness and respect – in all aspects of life," the letter stated. "In Illinois today, gay and lesbian couples who are in lifetime committed relationships do not have the freedom to marry. This violates our sense of fairness and respect. It also goes against the Golden Rule of treating others as you would like to be treated yourself."

Those signing the letter are:

Ernie Banks – a beloved Chicago icon nicknamed "Mr. Cub," Banks played as a shortstop and first baseman for the Chicago Cubs from 1953 through 1971. Banks was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977 and the Major League Baseball All-Century Team in 1999.

Richard Dent – played defensive end for the Chicago Bears for eleven seasons. He was the MVP of legendary Super Bowl XX and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011.

Hunter Hillenmeyer – played linebacker for the Chicago Bears from 2003-2010. Along with All-Pro linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, Hillenmeyer was part of a linebacking corps considered one of the best in the league.

Brendon Ayanbadejo – Having played for the Chicago Bears from 2005-2007, Ayanbadejo now plays linebacker for the Super Bowl XLVII champion Baltimore Ravens. A three-time NFL Pro-Bowler, Ayanbadejo was born in Chicago and lived in the Lathrop Homes as a child.

The athletes, in the letter, continued, "We come from a variety of backgrounds, and we have played different sports for different teams. But one thing that binds us together is our belief in the importance of fairness and respect – in all aspects of life," the letter stated. "In Illinois today, gay and lesbian couples who are in lifetime committed relationships do not have the freedom to marry. This violates our sense of fairness and respect. It also goes against the Golden Rule of treating others as you would like to be treated yourself."

The letter was released by Illinois Unites for Marriage - a coalition led by Equality Illinois, Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Illinois. 

It comes at a time of strong support for marriage equality in Illinois; a recent Crain's/Ipsos poll shows Illinoisans supporting marriage equality, with 50 percent in favor and only 29 percent opposed. Of the 50 percent in support, 37 percent "strongly" support the freedom to marry, according to the poll. 

The support also comes at a time where every major newspaper serving Illinois has endorsed the marriage equality bill, including the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Daily Herald, the Peoria Journal Star, the Springfield Journal-Register, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Quad City Times.

A vote in the Illinois House is expected soon.
 
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