Illinois GOP Divided On Same-Sex Marriage, Trump | WBEZ
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Illinois Republicans Divided On Same-Sex Marriage, Trump

Illinois Republicans have a resounding, but divisive, answer to whether the state party platform includes an acceptance of same-sex marriages, and despite calls for unity, they continue to be divided over their presumptive presidential nominee, Donald Trump.

Those are two takeaways from a weekend in Peoria, where 1,000 Republican officials gathered together for the state GOP convention, an event in which the state Republican Party chairman Tim Schneider told the crowd, “Unity makes the impossible, possible.”

The rowdiest part of the meeting came during a debate over how the state’s Republicans officially define their position on same-sex marriage in the party platform. Some party members, like Ryan Higgins from Schaumburg, argued for including an acknowledgement of same-sex marriages, as some in the party believed that could open the party up to younger or more moderate members.

But during a debate on the issue, the crowd constantly booed Higgins, with some yelling at him to “go home.” Many in the audience proudly wore bright yellow buttons that said “Marriage: One Mom, One Dad.”

For Illinois State Rep. Terri Bryant (R-Mt. Vernon), her argument against same-sex marriage was political.

“If there’s no distinguishing factor between the Democrats and us, how do I win? How do the downstate Republicans win?” she asked, as the crowd cheered. “We have to have a distinction. I implore you, I implore you, so we can pick up the extra seats we need in the House.”

Eighty percent of Republicans in the room voted in agreement with Bryant, leaving the official Illinois Republican Party platform to read: the “ideal environment for children is within a two-parent family based on the principle of marriage between one man and one woman.”

When asked before the vote about same-sex marriage, Gov. Bruce Rauner wouldn’t take a position, deferring to the delegates to decide. After the vote, Rauner said, “Neither political party is a monolith. You have members of each political party who agree on some issues and disagree on others. It’s OK.”

Rauner also did not directly address the candidacy of Donald Trump, or his success within the Republican Party primary process. In a 20-minute speech to fire up the 1,000 Illinois Republican leaders in attendance, the closest Rauner got to verbally supporting Trump was saying, “What we can’t do is have Hillary get in the White House. No way Hillary’s getting in the White House. No way. No way.”

Rauner wasn’t alone: Some other elected Illinois Republicans also left Trump’s name out of their remarks, like Congressmen Adam Kinzinger and Randy Hultgren. Hultgren released a statement two weeks ago that said: “I am not sold on Mr. Trump - not yet. I don’t know if I’ll ever be.”

But Rep. Darin LaHood did bring up Trump. While LaHood did not support him in the primary, the congressman told Republicans Saturday that now’s the time for the party to unite behind Trump.

“When we think about uniting, our worst candidate is better than the alternative any day of the week,” LaHood said.

A lot of people in the crowd did support Trump. Many of them enthusiastically waved his signs, wore his “Keep America Great Again” hats and sported his buttons.

And they were energized by a Trump supporter who’s not from Illinois. Ashley Byers was introduced as a retired ballerina from Florida. She’s now in modeling.

“I am not here to talk about his policies or campaign or even about his company and the amazing thriving empire he has built over the years. I am here to attest to his character and the man of integrity that I know him to be,” Byers said.

No speaker mentioned building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, temporarily banning Muslims from coming into the country or trade deals.

Further evidence of the divide between Illinois Republican leadership and Trump: Chicago Cubs co-owner Todd Ricketts was selected to be a delegate at the national convention. The Ricketts family has been vocal about opposing Trump.

Lauren Chooljian covers city politics for WBEZ. Follow her @laurenchooljian.
Tony Arnold covers Illinois state politics for WBEZ. Follow him @tonyjarnold.

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