Ernie Banks, sports stars back marriage equality in Illinois

Chicago Cubs legend Ernie Banks and other celebrated athletes have signed a letter endorsing marriage equality in Illinois. 

The House of Representatives is expected to vote soon on the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, which would legalize marriage for same-sex couples in the state while providing protections for religious freedom.

In a letter encouraging passage of the bill, which has already been approved in the senate and has the governor's support, the athletes wrote that "treating any group of people as second-class citizens hurts us all, because discrimination is wrong no matter whom the target is."

"We come from a variety of backgrounds, and we have played different sports for different teams. But one thing that binds us together is our belief in the importance of fairness and respect – in all aspects of life," the letter stated. "In Illinois today, gay and lesbian couples who are in lifetime committed relationships do not have the freedom to marry. This violates our sense of fairness and respect. It also goes against the Golden Rule of treating others as you would like to be treated yourself."

Signers, according to the coalition Illinois Unites for Marriage, include:

• Ernie Banks, “Mr. Cub,” who played as a shortstop and first baseman for the Chicago Cubs from 1953 through 1971. Banks was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977 and the Major League Baseball All-Century Team in 1999. He also has participated in Chicago's Pride parade.

• Richard Dent, who played defensive end for the Chicago Bears for 11 seasons. He was the MVP of Super Bowl XX and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011.

• Hunter Hillenmeyer, who played linebacker for the Chicago Bears from 2003-2010.  Along with All-Pro linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, Hillenmeyer was part of a linebacking corps considered one of the best in the league.

• Brendon Ayanbadejo, who played for the Chicago Bears from 2005-2007. Ayanbadejo now plays linebacker for the Super Bowl XLVII champion Baltimore Ravens. A three-time NFL Pro-Bowler, Ayanbadejo was born in Chicago and lived in the Lathrop Homes as a child.

The athletes, in the letter, wrote, "As professional athletes, we always played for the love of the game.  The competition on the field – whether it was the football field or the baseball diamond – strengthened us and continues to do so,” the athletes stated in the open letter.  “But for that competition to take place, there have to be rules and a code of behavior. Above all, players have to treat each other with fairness and with respect."

The support also comes at a time where every major newspaper serving Illinois has endorsed the marriage equality bill, including the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Daily Herald, the Peoria Journal Star, the Springfield Journal-Register,the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Quad City Times.

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