CHICAGO – Normally hot-button social issues like gay marriage and abortion rights have remained on the back burner for much of the Illinois governor’s race, with candidates more focused on the state’s dire fiscal problems. Republican businessman Bruce Rauner, who is challenging Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, goes so far as to say he doesn’t have a “social issues agenda.”
But positions on those issues still sway some voters, and a new batch of political ads and an advisory referendum about birth control on the November ballot have brought some of them into the limelight.
Same-sex marriages became legal statewide in Illinois this year. The measure, which Quinn signed in 2013, was opposed by religious organizations.
“I fought for marriage equality to make Illinois a state that welcomes everyone and provide equal rights to all couples,” Quinn wrote in an Associated Press campaign questionnaire.
Quinn calls it among his greatest accomplishments, but his stance has evolved. He didn’t publicly back gay marriage until 2012 after President Barack Obama did so, saying Illinois’ 2011 legalized civil unions had worked well.
Rauner refuses to discuss his views on same-sex marriage but says he wouldn’t change Illinois’ new law.
“I never have and never will comment on that,” he told AP. “Social issues for me are off the table.”
Previously, Rauner has said that same-sex marriage should’ve been put to voters and if they didn’t want it, he’d have rejected it. In commercials, his campaign has painted it as a matter of equality. In one, a woman notes that Rauner will “leave the marriage equality law alone.”
Both candidates have appealed to women voters and say they largely support a woman’s choice on abortion rights.
“I strongly support a woman’s right to choose and will defend this right in every way,” Quinn wrote in an AP questionnaire. On his website, Quinn says “putting restrictions on these decisions can put a woman’s health and life at risk.”
Last week, Quinn’s campaign hosted feminist leader Gloria Steinem, who praised Quinn and running mate Paul Vallas’ support of abortion rights.
Rauner wrote in an AP questionnaire that abortion is “best decided by a woman and her doctor,” but he does support restrictions on late-term abortions. He says he doesn’t use the term “pro-choice” himself, but in a recent campaign ad targeted at women a supporter deems him “pro-choice.”
One political action committee has zeroed in on Rauner’s contrasting stance with Sanguinetti. She wrote in an AP questionnaire she’s “pro-life, but like many pro-life Republicans in Illinois” she respects Rauner’s position.
Chicago-based Personal PAC, which supports pro-abortion rights candidates, has spent a total of roughly $1 million on television ads and mailers opposing Rauner, also noting that the Rauners have supported other candidates who oppose abortion rights.
Both candidates support a nonbinding ballot measure that will ask voters if insurance companies’ prescription drug coverage plans should be required to include birth control.
Illinois already has a 2003 law requiring providers that cover prescription drugs to also cover FDA-approved contraceptive drugs for women.
Opponents say it’s a tactic to boost Democratic votes, but proponents say voters’ support ensures protections in the wake of June’s U.S. Supreme Court decision saying employers with religious objections could opt out of a federal rule requiring insurers to cover contraceptives.
Illinois is developing its new medical marijuana pilot program, which Quinn signed into law in 2013. Quinn said Illinois’ law, with stricter standards than other states, could help the seriously ill.
Rauner said he wouldn’t have signed it and questions the process for deciding who can grow and sell. Sanguinetti disagrees. She suffers from multiple sclerosis and says there are benefits for people in pain.
No candidate supports legalizing marijuana outright.