An ad being run by Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner in his reelection campaign, featuring a same-sex marriage between his challenger and a top Illinois Democrat, is being criticized as homophobic.
The television ad, unveiled this week, portrays Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker entering into an "unholy union" with Mike Madigan, speaker of the Illinois House and chair of the Illinois Democratic Party.
An officiant is heard saying, "Repeat after me. I, Mike Madigan, take you, J.B. Pritzker, as my unlawful partner in destruction, to raise property taxes, corrupt government, and bankrupt Illinois' future." Pritzer promises to "honor and obey" Madigan, and the officiant says, "I now pronounce Illinois [bleeped]."
Rauner is a conservative Republican, especially on economic issues, but has set himself up as an ally of LGBTQ people. In his first term as governor, he signed into law a bill banning the use of conversion therapy on minors, oversaw the expansion of transgender protections, and even officiated a same-sex wedding. He did, however, veto a bill that would have made the state's LGBTQ-inclusive antidiscrimination law apply to even the smallest businesses.
LGBTQ advocates were quick to denounce the ad. "As someone who has officiated same-sex weddings, Gov. Rauner could serve as a model of inclusivity and use his campaign to vigorously promote full acceptance of LGBTQ Illinoisans," Brian Johnson, CEO of Equality Illinois, said in a statement to the Chicago Tribune. "Instead, he chooses to raise the specter of gay marriage to turn out the most extreme elements of his base. We recognize a dog whistle when we hear one." The statewide LGBTQ rights group has endorsed Pritzker, a prominent businessman and philanthropist, in the governor's race.
Rauner, who was criticized by Republican primary opponent Jeanne Ives as insufficiently conservative on social issues, denied that the ad was an attack on marriage equality. "I can absolutely say that same-sex marriage is the law. I support the law," he told the Tribune. And at a campaign event, he said he has been "very supportive of the LGBTQ community as governor," the Chicago Sun-Times reports.
Brian Gaines, a political science professor at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, told the Sun-Times it's "misleading" to consider the ad an attack on marriage equality. He said it instead represents the governor "swinging for the fence" because he's trailing Pritzker in the polls.
Pritzker's campaign said Rauner was "blaming others for his own failures," according to the Sun-Times. "After four years of seeing their governor more interested in affairs with special interests, badmouthing his own state and refusing to compromise, the people of Illinois are looking forward to their divorce from Bruce Rauner being finalized on November 6th," Pritzker spokeswoman Galia Slayen said in a statement.