When Gery Chico ran for the U.S. Senate in 2004, he was the only candidate to support gay marriage. That was one of many signs that he was too big-city for a statewide race.
Sunday, Chico brought his message of marriage equality to a place he knew it would be well-received: Ann Sather, the Belmont Avenue restaurant owned by Tom Tunney, the city’s only openly gay alderman.
Chico was introduced by Rick Garcia, the executive director of Equality Illinois, the state’s leading gay rights advocacy group. Garcia already had his bags packed for the drive to Springfield, to lobby for the civil unions bill the legislature is expected to vote on this week.
Describing Chico as “a longtime friend,” Garcia said that “Chicago is at a turning point. We’ve had a mayor that has been extremely responsive to the lesbian and gay community. As a gay rights activist, I say we cannot lose that. We need a mayor who is not only strong for gay rights here, but all over the country.”
Chico recalled his surprise in 2004 when he saw the Chicago Tribune headline that said, “Chico Only Candidate To Support Gay Marriage.”
“The way I was brought up, in my family, we were all about equality,” he said. “It didn’t matter where you came from.”
This week, Chico has been lobbying state legislators to pass the civil unions bill.
“This is just a civil rights issue,” he said. “Two people ought to be able to decide, ‘I want to give you my property on my death. To me, it’s a matter of fairness and decency, and it oughta pass.”
If it doesn’t, Chico won’t perform renegade marriages, as the mayor of San Francisco did -- “people might be making decisions based on what we do, and it might be misleading” -- but he is promising to ask all city contractors to extend domestic partnerships to their employees. He also wants ensure that gays and lesbians are represented in the city’s workforce, and require cops and firefighters to undergo sensitivity training.
Chico is the first mayoral candidate with whom Garcia has appeared publicly, but Equality Illinois has met with Carol Moseley Braun and James Meeks. Moseley Braun supports gay marriage. Meeks “didn’t say yes or no,” but he’ll be forced to take a stand when the civil unions bill comes before the state senate.
Equality Illinois won’t be backing a candidate, but Garcia plans to make a “personal endorsement” (wink, wink) in a few weeks.Support for gay marriage will be a requirement. During the last contested mayoral election, in 1989, gay marriage was unimaginable, and gays were a marginal constituency. Now, support for gay rights is a badge of tolerance and progressivism -- qualities that most Chicagoans want to see in a mayor.
“Twenty-one years ago, Mayor Daley realized it was important, not essential,” Garcia said. “Today, I think people realize it’s essential.”