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I felt as if Illinois GOP voted me out of party for being gay

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner addresses the Illinois GOP Convention to the applause of party chairman Tim Schneider, right, at the Peoria Civic Center in Peoria, Ill., Saturday, May 21, 2016. (Ron Johnson/Journal Star via AP)

As a lifelong gay Republican who strongly supports marriage equality, I have accepted that I am a minority within the Republican Party, but I have always felt accepted at Republican events. That changed last week when I represented my county as a delegate to the Illinois Republican Convention in Peoria.

I would like to let you know exactly how it feels to be part of a helpless minority, to feel as if the Illinois Republican Party enthusiastically voted me out of the party to which I have dedicated so much time, money and influence since 2010.

OPINION

First, I was shocked. With the bipartisan passage of marriage equality in Illinois in 2013, and then the U.S. Supreme Court decision strengthening it last year, I thought the issue was dead. Of course, there will always be holdouts, but, in a progressive state like Illinois, surely the issue of marriage equality has been overshadowed by the more pressing economic difficulties this state faces.

And although I don’t expect the Republican Party to match the Democrat Party in pro-gay fervor, a proposed change to the Republican Party platform was very minor. It kept the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman, and simply added a short clause stating that the party should recognize that nontraditional families deserve equal respect.

I’m confident the overwhelming majority of the people of Illinois could agree with that statement.

Second, I was hurt. On Friday, I met great fellow delegates, and we had enlightening, civil discussions on Republican values, current affairs, and, yes, nontraditional families. Then, on the convention floor, I looked around as many of these same delegates stood up to vote in favor of relegating me to second-class status.

I have always defended their rights to religious freedom and pursuit of happiness, and I would never think of invalidating their family structure. How can they possibly look me in the eye and tell me that my quality of life is not worthy of even a half-hearted acceptance in their party platform? I honestly felt like crying. When the meeting adjourned, I avoided eye contact with everyone as I quickly made my way through the crowd to my car, where I could express my emotion privately. I would never wish such feelings of betrayal on anyone.

Third, predictably, I was angry at my Republican Party’s hypocrisy and double standards. Angry that they claim to espouse individual freedom and then formally exclude people with different values. Angry that they criticize liberals for suppressing free speech and then jeer and drown out the voices of the courageous minority attempting to express opposing views. Angry that they complain that Christians have become a mistreated minority and then tell other minorities that they deserve no respect. Angry at the absurdity of the statement that they somehow support me personally, but they basically believe I should not exist.

Delegates attend the Illinois GOP Convention at the Peoria Civic Center in Peoria Saturday. (Ron Johnson/Journal Star via AP)
Delegates attend the Illinois GOP Convention at the Peoria Civic Center in Peoria Saturday. (Ron Johnson/Journal Star via AP)

Ultimately, I will keep fighting. Because I do agree with genuine Republican Party principles on 80 percent of the issues, switching parties is simply not an option. I will continue to support all the courageous Republicans who fight for nontraditional families, and I will continue to oppose Republicans who have double standards when it comes to freedom and equality.

I will continue to dream of the day when I can fully embrace a Republican Party that truly supports equal status and opportunity for everyone. But for now, I would rather be a second-class citizen in a first-class country than a first-class citizen in a second-class country.

Lastly, when the anti-gay rhetoric flowed, equating committed same-sex marriage to bestiality and pedophilia, I silently respected their right of free speech. Their lack of mutual respect for speakers on my side is indicative of their shameful inhuman character. They may vote against my basic human rights, but they can never vote away my superiority in basic human decency and class. I will always be proud to be part of the civilized minority who are confident enough in the morality of our cause as to not feel desperate enough to denigrate and silence our opposition.

Richard Montgomery is a precinct committeeman in the City of Champaign and was a 2016 delegate to the Illinois Republican Convention.

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