Illinois’ s Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner has earned praise from LGBTQ organizations and criticism from right-wing circles for officiating at the wedding of Mark Cozzi, a state appointee, and his husband James Goeke.
Cozzi, a board member of Equality Illinois and a Chicago housing commissioner, has a close working relationship with the governor, who appointed him to the Illinois State Board of Investment, and then to the State Universities Retirement System Board of Trustees.
Cozzi posted a photo of Rauner at the wedding ceremony, which took place on July 1, on Instagram.
Shortly after the photo was posted, the right-wing Illinois Family Institute balked at the governor’s embrace of a same-sex marriage.
“It’s clear that the governor has learned nothing from his near-loss in the Republican primary this year,” David Smith of the Illinois Family Institute told the conservative Illinois Review. “He’s not interested in attracting social conservatives to get out and vote Republican this fall.”
Rauner pulled out a three-point victory in the primary after a spirited challenge from State Rep. Jeanne Ives (R-Wheaton), who represents the Chicago suburbs and who embraced conservative social stances in her campaign.
During the campaign, Ives even lampooned Rauner’s failure to veto or fight back against progressive policies — including pro-LGBTQ bills — passed by the Democratic-controlled General Assembly in a now-infamous commercial mocking various liberal boogeymen, including teachers’ unions, illegal immigrants, gang members, and transgender women.
While Rauner isn’t the only governor to have officiated at same-sex nuptials, he may be the first GOP governor to do so. He and his wife also attended a reception before the Chicago Pride March in June, and marched in the city of Aurora’s first Gay Pride Parade. And those actions have some conservatives threatening to stay home in November.
Much of Rauner’s public image is based around eschewing social issues and refusing to engage in so-called “culture wars,” instead focusing on the need for lower taxes, pension reform, and railing against corruption in Springfield.
As part of that image, he has signed into law several pieces of pro-LGBTQ legislation, including a bill to allow transgender people to amend their birth certificates, a bill prohibiting the use of “gay panic” as a defense for violent crimes, and prohibiting licensed therapists from subjecting LGBTQ youth to conversion therapy.
The political calculation is that, by avoiding social issues, Rauner will be able to win the votes of enough independents and Democrats to emerge victorious in November’s election against Democrat J.B. Pritzker.
Under this assumption, Republicans will turn out and vote for Rauner because of his economic policies and calls for smaller, less intrusive government. But if social conservatives stay home in droves, it could endanger Rauner’s re-election bid.
But the governor has also received praise from pro-LGBTQ groups. Ed Yohnka, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, praised the governor’s embrace of the wedding, saying it shows “love is love and people are recognizing that.”
Mike Ziri, a spokesman for Equality Illinois, also had warm words for the governor — despite not having endorsed him four years ago.
“As chief executive of our state, it is appropriate for Governor Rauner to administer government-sanctioned functions, including marriage,” Ziri said in a statement. “There is no license to discriminate in Illinois, as the Illinois Family Institute seems to falsely believe.”