Primary wins for Illinois Republicans who voted for gay marriage

Wed. March 19, 2014 12:08 PM by News Staff

illinois state rep. ron sandack

Freshman lawmaker Rep. Christian Mitchell, a Democrat, also faced a primary challenge after his vote for marriage equality.

Chicago, IL - Republican lawmakers, who voted "yes" on marriage equality in the Illinois House, claimed victory in Tuesday's primary election despite being targeted by right-wing conservatives.

Last fall when the Illinois House passed the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, House Minority Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego) was one of three Republicans in the House to vote for in favor of the bill. The others were Ron Sandack (R-Downers Grove) and Ed Sullivan (R-Mundelein).

On Tuesday, Cross defeated DuPage County Auditor Bob Grogan while Sullivan easily won renomination in Illinois District 51. Sandack claimed a narrow victory against Keith Matune for the 81st Illinois House seat.

"I expected it to be close," Sandack said Wednesday. "This was an extremely difficult race. There were clear issues of divide. I've been trying to expand the party's base and get more people into the party and focus on the issues that affect all families, which is the financial future of the state."

The race in Illinois 81st District was closely watched by marriage rights advocates both locally and nationwide after a contentious campaign targeted Sandack for his vote to legalize same-sex marriage.

"After we won marriage equality last fall, we knew that anti-gay extremists would try and punish an incumbent or two and stop our nationwide momentum," explained longtime LGBT-rights advocate Kevin Boyer. "The stakes were high and they tried, and failed."

Mantune supporters attacked Sandack with an anti-gay mailer featuring two men kissing and the caption: "You can kiss the GOP good-bye with officials who vote like Democrats." Conservative political activist Dan Proft, through his Liberty Principles PAC, spent $13,500 on Sandack attack ads, according to the Associated Press.

"If you are a state legislator, want to vote for equality, but worry that you will be targeted, this is yet another example of how we will have our back," Boyer said. "The LGBT and allied community rallied around those incumbents and helped tell the real story of their courageous vote."

Boyer was co-chair of the Oct. 22 March on Springfield for Marriage Equality and one of the organizers for "Protect Our Friends Project", a campaign ran by Equality Illinois and Equality Illinois PAC that phone banked on behalf of marriage equality supporters facing primary challengers.

"Passing the marriage bill was a historic undertaking, and defending our pro-marriage lawmakers required an equally forceful effort," Equality Illinois CEO Bernard Cherkasov told "I am so proud that Equality Illinois led that focused, disciplined, and aggressive campaign. Just look at the results: despite the efforts of our very well-funded and organized opponents, we ensured that not a single lawmaker, Democrat or Republican, lost her or his seat because of the vote in favor of marriage equality."

EQIL PAC also stood behind lawmakers who took leadership roles in the fight for marriage equality by spending nearly $150,000 for legislative candidates in targeted races throughout state.

"We are now looking forward to rolling out our strategic statewide program for the general election. The stakes are even higher in November, and Equality Illinois will continue to protect our rights," added Cherkasov.

Mitchell wins state House seat 

Freshman lawmaker Rep. Christian Mitchell, a Democrat, also faced a primary challenge sparked by his "yes" vote for marriage equality. South Side pastors strongly targeted Mitchell for co-sponsoring the legislation. Mitchell narrowly won the 26th District seat against community organizer Jhatayn "Jay" Travis.

A complete report on Illinois primary elections from Windy City Times

Related: Sandack claims victory in close state House race (Chicago Tribune)