Ernie Banks, Tom Ridge Among Newest Gay Marriage Supporters

Ernie Banks as a young ballplayer.

Ernie Banks as a young ballplayer.

With marriage equality headed for a vote in the Illinois House of Representatives –– after passage by the Senate and with the support of Democratic Governor Pat Quinn –– former Chicago Cub hero Ernie Banks is among four local sports stars who have now endorsed the measure, the Windy City Times reports.

“Treating any group of people as second-class citizens hurts us all, because discrimination is wrong no matter whom the target is,” read an open letter signed by Banks, who played shortstop and first base for the Cubs for 19 seasons, former Bears players Richard Dent, a defensive end, Hunter Hillenmeyer, a linebacker, and Brendon Ayanbadejo, another linebacker who now plays for the Baltimore Ravens.

Banks, who is now 82, joined the Major Leagues as the Cubs’ first African-American player in 1953 and was the National League’s Most Valuable Player in 1957 and 1959, on a team that went many, many decades without a pennant win. Dubbed Mr. Cub, the revered old-school sports star holds the record for most games played on that team.

Illinois Unites for Marriage –– a coalition led by Equality Illinois, Lambda Legal, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois –– noted that a recent poll by Crain’s Chicago Business found that 50 percent of the state’s residents support gay marriage, with 29 percent opposed. Leading newspapers in the state, including the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and dailies in Springfield, Peoria, and the Quad Cities have endorsed the bill, which could receive a House vote as early as next week.

Meanwhile, Philadelphia Gay News publisher Mark Segal reports that former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge, who served as Homeland Security secretary in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, has also endorsed marriage equality, signing on to an amicus brief that prominent Republicans are filing in the Proposition 8 case that goes to the Supreme Court at the end of this month. Other former GOP governors, including Utah’s Jon Huntsman, who sought his party’s presidential nomination last year, and New Jersey’s Christine Todd Whitman, also signed the brief.

No sitting Republican governor has endorsed the brief, and New York’s Richard Hanna and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida are the only two Republican members of Congress who have done so.