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Gov. Rauner helps gay men tie the knot — conservatives fit to be tied

Gov. Bruce Rauner, left, at the June 30 wedding of Mark Cozzi, right, and James Goeke, center. From Cozzi’s Instagram account.

Five years ago when he first hit the campaign trail, Bruce Rauner dodged questions about same-sex marriage, calling his view “irrelevant.”

Flash forward to June 30 when the Republican governor — who has already drawn ire from social conservatives — officiated a same sex wedding in Chicago.

That’s according to one of the grooms, Mark Cozzi, who was appointed by the governor to serve on the State Universities Retirement System Board of Trustees in 2017. Cozzi is also a former board member for Equality Illinois.

Cozzi told the Sun-Times Rauner officiated at his wedding to James Goeke on June 30 at a private club in Chicago. First Lady Diana Rauner was also in attendance.

Cozzi posted a photo of the governor at the wedding on his Instagram account, prompting outrage from some on the far right. The Rauners are personal friends of the couple, who are political supporters of the governor, according to an attendee at the wedding.

“Keep poking social conservatives in the eye Bruce,” tweeted David E. Smith, executive director of the Illinois Family Institute. “You are doing a yeoman’s job of alienating the base.”

Others applauded the governor’s role in the wedding. Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, said it shows “love is love and that people are recognizing that.”

“I don’t really know all the politics of it. I’m going to guess some of it. But the truth is, it’s just a public official respecting and honoring the fact that love is just love,” Yohnka said. “I thought they [the Illinois Family Institute], my friend David, is supposed to be about families and this is a family and it’s a wonderful thing.”

Equality Illinois — the state’s civil rights organization for LGBTQ people — too, applauded Rauner’s role in the wedding.

“As chief executive of our state, it is appropriate for Gov. Rauner to administer government-sanctioned functions, including marriage,” said Mike Ziri, spokesman for Equality Illinois. “There is no license to discriminate in Illinois, as the Illinois Family Institute seems to falsely believe.”

Rauner campaigned as a social moderate, and has said repeatedly that he has no social agenda. But he’s been forced to address several key issues during his first-term — signing a controversial measure that expanded taxpayer-funding of abortion and worked to protect abortions in Illinois should the Supreme Court overturn Roe. v. Wade. He also signed a measure that allowed transgender people to change the sex listed on their birth certificates.

Those were among some of the issues that led state Rep. Jeanne Ives, R-Wheaton, to run against Rauner in the March primary, with the governor winning by just 3 points.

Many conservative Republicans called the signing of the abortion bill a betrayal. But Rauner denied the claim that earned him the nickname of “Benedict Rauner” and the label of RINO — Republican in name only.

Illinois Review, a news source for conservatives, first reported on Rauner at the wedding and the potential conservative backlash.

The governor’s office declined comment on the wedding.

Less than four years ago, Equality Illinois accused Rauner of ducking social issues that turned some voters off. Just months before the 2014 election, Rauner sent former Illinois GOP Party Chairman Pat Brady to the Pride Parade in Chicago in his place.

Gay rights activists supported Democrat Pat Quinn in the race. They campaigned against Rauner, hanging a banner along the parade route, bearing Rauner’s face and a quote they attributed to him on marriage quality: “If I were governor, I would veto it.”

Brady stepped down from his post after angering social conservatives when he took a stand in favor of same-sex marriage.

During the campaign Rauner declined to say whether he supported it. And while he said he had no plans to overturn the same-sex marriage law, he also said if it had landed on his desk as governor he would have vetoed it because voters should have decided the issue in a referendum.

In June 2013, Rauner said he toured the state and people were concerned about education, the economy and jobs.

“My view is irrelevant,” Rauner told the Sun-Times about his personal view on same-sex marriage. “Why does that matter?”

But Rauner met with gay rights advocates soon after taking office, telling them he’d direct state agencies to enforce anti-discrimination laws.

“I said four years ago, and it’s always been true,” he told the Chicago Sun-Times while campaigning in the final week before the March primary. “I support a woman’s right to decide. I don’t focus on social issues, never have. I’m focused on what unites us: lower taxes, more jobs, ending corruption, and term limits.”