A Chicago-based Marine Corps. veteran discharged from the military under the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy wrote an impassioned letter urging black lawmakers in the Illinois House to vote "yes" on the state's marriage equality bill.
In the letter, Marquell Smith writes that it "breaks my heart that any elected leader would use the good people in AfricanAmerican churches as justification to limit the rights of others, based on the prejudices of how we were raised."
"Like you I'm African-American," Smith's letter continues. "I learned that the struggles of our people are a symbol of hope for those being discriminated against. We cannot let an important vehicle of past struggles —African-American churches— become the gatekeepers of the rights to dignity of others. Who are we to deny someone else the right to marry because we don't agree with who they love?"
The letter was addressed to six state representatives -- Will Davis, Mary Flowers, LaShawn Ford, Eddie Jackson, Chuck Jefferson and Andre Thapedi -- who are reportedly on the fence on the state's marriage equality bill.
The Illinois House Black Caucus has been the subject of extensive lobbying from both sides of the issue in recent months and the state's African-American faith leaders have been split on the bill.
A Chicago Sun-Times survey this week also found that members of the Illinois House Black Caucus were similarly split on the legislation -- and that only four of the 20 members were definite "yes" votes. Five others said they were leaning toward a "yes," four were opposed and seven were still undecided.
Meanwhile, marriage equality advocates said this week that they have reached the number of votes they need in order to pass the bill, but a date has not been set for a vote. Former President Bill Clinton also threw his name into the matter this week, urging the state House to approve the bill and send it to Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn to be signed into law.
The state's spring legislative session ends on May 31. If the bill is not passed by the House by that date, it will be delayed for many months more.