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Democratic state rep uncertain on marriage stance
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Kate Sosin, Windy City Times

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Democratic state Rep. Rita Mayfield may be in hot water with some LGBTs after comments made to the Daily Herald, but the official said she is open-minded and wants to talk about LGBT issues.

Mayfield, who voted "present" on Illinois' historic civil-union vote two years ago, told the Herald that her church disapproved of "that lifestyle" and that she did not understand the need for same-sex marriage.

"One of the answers I was told is that civil unions didn't give them enough. How much more do you want?" she said in the interview.

Mayfield appeared eager to clarify those statements to Windy City Times.

"I'm trying to do the right thing," she said. "I don't want to discriminate."

Mayfield said she is earnest in her request for more information about same-sex marriage and that she wants LGBT advocates to meet with her on the issue.

"I've been very vocal on this," she said. "It's not like I've been hiding with my head in the sand."

Mayfield said that she would oppose a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman and that if given a second chance, she would vote "yes" on civil unions. She said she backed Rep. Kelly Cassidy's bill that intended to bolster anti-bullying protections (that bill failed this year) and that she strongly supports increased funding for HIV/AIDS services.

Mayfield cited support for her best friend, who she identified as a gay HIV-positive man, as one reason why she says she supports LGBT rights.

But, Mayfield said, she is unclear about the differences between civil unions and marriages and, therefore, can't pitch the prospect to constituents.

"If I don't understand, I can't explain it to my district," she said.

Mayfield said she wants LGBT rights activists to convince her of the necessity for same-sex marriage in Illinois, something she believes would be a hard sell in her northern Illinois district.

Mayfield expressed similar sentiments this spring when she was approached by two participants in Equality Illinois Lobby Days.

"She stated that she didn't think people in her district would support marriage equality," said Rev. Deeya Roberts, who spoke with Mayfield at Lobby Days.

Mayfield and Roberts did discuss the possibility of hosting a forum with a church that affirms LGBT people in her district. Mayfield said Roberts never got in touch to make plans. Roberts said she emailed Mayfield but never heard back.

Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois, met with Mayfield following her positive response at Lobby Days this spring.

"She asked a lot of questions that were very thoughtful," Cherkasov said. "She showed such an open mind."

Cherkasov, however, condemned Mayfield's statements to the Herald, stating that it was "disappointing and disturbing that a lawmaker would make those comments."

Equality Illinois currently has an "I Do" campaign, which tracks support for marriage equality throughout the state. Cherkasov said Equality Illinois has approximately 100 "I Do" cards from Mayfield's District.

Cherkasov said Mayfield's recent comments show how much more work remains for LGBT advocates in Illinois.

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