Republican incumbent Bruce Rauner conceded election on Tuesday after early polls showed his Democratic opponent, J.B. Pritzker, leading by more than 30 points.
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner dismissed claims that a campaign ad depicting his opponent getting married to another man is “homophobic.”
An advertisement paid for by Citizens for Rauner features an actor (whose face isn’t shown onscreen) playing Democratic opponent J.B. Pritzker tying the knot with Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, who is also portrayed by a faceless stand-in. A justice of the peace dressed in black robe then commands the couple to repeat after him.
“I, Mike Madigan, take you, J.B. Pritzker, as my unlawful partner in destruction; to raise property taxes, corrupt government, and bankrupt Illinois’ future,” he says.
“Done,” the Madigan stand-in says in a forceful staccato. “Deal.”
The officiant then instructs the Pritzker stand-in to respond: “And I, J.B. Pritzker, take you, Mike Madigan, to honor and obey till death do us part.”
“Always have,” he asserts. “Always will.”
Although the profanity is bleeped out in the ad, the justice of the peace responds: “By the power vested in me. I now pronounce Illinois f*****.”
LGBTQ groups in Illinois were not amused. After the ad, which was titled “Unholy Union” on Facebook, was released on Tuesday, the nonprofit organization Equality Illinois claimed it was “deeply disappointed” with the governor’s campaign, accusing it of “using the LGBTQ community for comedic value to make a political hit.”
“Our weddings are not a joke,” said Equality Illinois CEO Brian C. Johnson in a statement. “Gov. Rauner does not represent Illinois’ values with this ad.”
But the incumbent asserts the ad was not intended to target the LGBTQ community.
In a statement provided to INTO, a spokesperson said Rauner “has been unequivocally supportive of the LGBTQ community” since his 2015 inauguration.
“The ad draws attention to the corrupt system that J.B. Pritzker and Mike Madigan would perpetuate if given total control of the state,” said Will Allison, communications director for the governor’s office, in an email to INTO. “Pritzker and Madigan would raise taxes on Illinois families and continue the trend of self-dealing that created the problems Illinois is facing.”
Rauner repeated this claim during an appearance at the Chicago Hope Academy in the Illinois Medical District. Before leading students in a prayer circle, he said he’d been “very supportive of the LGBTQ community as governor.”
The Republican did, indeed, make a commitment to furthering equality shortly after taking office three years ago.
Following a March 2015 meeting with Equality Illinois, he pledged to strictly enforce statewide protections banning discrimination against LGBTQ people. In a press release, the advocacy group reported that Rauner “suggested an openness to new initiatives to protect Illinoisans who experience unequal treatment.”
Greg Harris, an openly gay Democrat in the Illinois House of Representatives, said Rauner’s record has not lived up to that promise.
“Just a few weeks ago he vetoed a law that would have extended protections from workplace discrimination to LGBTQ employees,” Harris claimed in a statement provided to INTO. “His homophobic dog-whistle ad complete with broadcast obscenities is sad but not surprising.”
In August, the conservative vetoed legislation expanding the Illinois Human Rights Act to cover businesses with less than 15 employees. That law forbids discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.
At the time of his veto, Rauner did not respond to request for comment from INTO.
When the incumbent campaigned for governor in 2014, Rauner claimed he would have vetoed marriage equality if a bill had crossed his desk. His predecessor, Pat Quinn, took the issue out of Rauner’s hands by signing same-sex marriage into law in Nov. 2013. At the time, Illinois was the 16th state to allow all couples to wed.
Many believe that the commercial, however, is just as much a referendum on Rauner’s LGBTQ policies as it is an indication of his poll numbers. Pritzker is leading by an average of 15.7 percentage points just days before the midterms.
The Democrat’s camp believes it’s voters who will be the ultimate judge at the ballot box next month.
“After four years of seeing their governor more interested in affairs with special interests, bad-mouthing 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,” said Jason Rubin, Pritzker’s deputy communications director, in an email.
“It is only fitting that Bruce Rauner would choose to end his campaign by blaming others for his own failures,” Rubin claimed.
The governor was widely blamed for a years-long budget impasse which reportedly cost the state $1 billion. Community organizations reported that rates of HIV testing plummeted as a result of the crisis, with many health centers cut off from state funding.
In 2017, a budget was passed for the first time for two years. Lawmakers overrode a veto from the governor to push it through.