Move to oust state GOP chair doomed to backfire

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Here's guessing that when the state's top Democrats gather these days, they're superstitiously avoiding mention of the coup attempt brewing in the Illinois GOP.

Goodness knows they don't want to jinx it.

The Illinois Republican State Central Committee has called a special meeting for March 9 in Tinley Park where the more socially conservative committeemen will try to muster enough votes to oust state party chair Pat Brady because he spoke out in favor of gay marriage.

"More and more Americans understand that if two people want to make a lifelong commitment to each other, government should not stand in their way," Brady told the Chicago Sun-Times when a marriage equality bill was before the lame-duck session of the General Assembly in January.

Brady noted that his position "honors the best conservative principles" because gay marriage "strengthens families and reinforces a key Republican value — that the law should treat all citizens equally."

It's an unusual but hardly radical view in the GOP. A Quinnipiac University poll published in December found 23 percent of self-identifying Republicans in support of same-sex marriage, and among prominent party members who have taken that position are Dick Cheney, Laura Bush, Colin Powell and Meg Whitman.

"My marriage has been the greatest joy of my life," wrote former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman in a guest essay in the American Conservative last week. "There is nothing conservative about denying other Americans the ability to forge that same relationship with the person they love."

Huntsman, who opposed gay marriage but favored civil unions during his unsuccessful run for president in 2012, added "The party of Lincoln should stand with our best tradition of equality and support full civil marriage for all Americans."

It's a debatable point, of course. And the debate will be fierce in Springfield this week as a same-sex marriage bill that passed the Senate is taken up by the House. The vote of the representatives stands to be closely divided.

But the vote of history will be a landslide. Every day, the opposition to gay marriage is literally dying off. In a November poll, Gallup found that 18-to-29-year-olds, the new generation of voters, support gay marriage nearly 3 to 1. Less than 40 percent of those older than 65 back the idea.

Illinois Democrats certainly have their problems. They dominate state government and therefore own the multifaceted, ever-deepening budget crisis they continually fail to address.

What a potential gift, then, that their Republican opponents are about to make national headlines by ousting a party chair for the sin of trying to coax them gently into the 21st century.

It's one thing to vote against legalizing gay marriage, as most Republican House members surely will. But it's quite another to incorporate a rigid, fading orthodoxy into the party brand, which will be the inevitable result if Brady is spectacularly kicked to the curb more than a year before his term as chairman expires.

Maybe this is why Republican state Sen. Jim Oberweis of Sugar Grove, who is behind the anti-Brady effort, insisted during an interview Tuesday that his issue with Brady isn't about gay marriage but Brady's "failure to follow organizational directives as seen in the party platform."

"About gay marriage," I suggested.

"Your words, not mine," Oberweis said.

Brady told me Monday he isn't going to the March 9 meeting to defend himself. His daughter is a high school junior and he's taking her on a trip to visit colleges. He's also canceled a March 19 fundraiser with Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus.

Sensible voices in the party — including GOP House leader Tom Cross, comptroller Judy Baar Topinka and U.S. Sen Mark Kirk — have been urging the anti-Brady zealots to stand down and avoid alienating young and moderate voters.

"No matter the reason given, it is impossible for the public to separate an ouster attempt from his (Brady's) personal views," said Senate Republican leader Christine Radogno Tuesday. "As a party, we need to have room for differing views."

But Oberweis, who is being cheered on by Downstate social conservatives and right-wing news sites, sounded determined to follow through.

Quietly giddy Democrats would be cheering him on, too, but it might be bad luck.

Discuss this column at chicagotribune.com/zorn

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Andy Green, the opinion editor, has taken the "know a little bit about everything" approach in his time at The Sun. He was the city/state editor before coming to the editorial board, and prior to that he covered the State House and Baltimore County government.

Tricia Bishop, the deputy editorial page editor, was a reporter in the business and metro sections covering biotechnology, education and city and federal courts prior to joining the board.

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