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Gay Rights Advocates Rankled By Ministers' Denouncement

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Some gay rights advocates are taking issue with an event earlier this week, where clergy members denounced any comparison between the gay rights movement and the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

This past Monday, the conservative religious group the Illinois Family Institute organized a news conference at a church in Hillside on Monday, in which ministers called such comparisons offensive.

The Rev. Al Cleveland, the pastor of a church in Bensenville, is opposed to homosexuality on religious grounds and was among the particpants in the event. He told WBBM Newsradio 780 that comparing the gay rights movement to the work of Dr. King perverts a noble cause.

"When we apply words to things that are as sacred as a movement to free a people – African-Americans – from the stigma of the color of their skin, and then apply that to what I call a lifestyle choice that wants to be made into a law, I find that very disheartening," Cleveland said.

In a news release, the Illinois Family Institute said "all civilized persons – particularly African-Americans – should be outraged" at the comparisons.

"Homosexualist organizations have one goal that reigns supreme over all others: the eradication of the true moral belief that homosexual acts are profoundly immoral," the group said in a news release, "and they are willing to exploit the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement in order to achieve their morally dubious and intellectually vacuous goal."

In a statement released later Monday and published by the website, Jacob Meister, president of The Civil Rights Agenda and a onetime U.S. Senate candidate, called the Illinois Family Institute's "ignorant and bigoted."

Meister went on to write that the statements "seek to perpetuate an insidious type of institutionalized discrimination. Gay Americans should not be forced to ride at the back of the bus simply because of how they were born."

He included a quote from Dr. King's widow, Coretta Scott King, which reads in part, "I appeal to everyone who believes in Martin Luther King, Jr.'s dream to make room at the table of brotherhood and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people."

Anthony Martinez, executive director of The Civil Rights Agenda, also took issue with the message of the Monday event, and accused the Family Institute of using Dr. King's name to preach intolerance.

"LGBT rights are civil rights. The government should not tell you who to love," Martinez wrote. "To invoke the name of Martin Luther King Jr. to spread hate and try to block rights from any group is a new low for IFI."

The Illinois Family Institute focuses much of its attention on opposition to homosexuality, and was among several religious groups that campaigned against the bill that legalized civil unions in Illinois last year.

The civil unions provision gives same-sex couples all 648 legal benefits of marriage. These include the right to visit a sick partner in the hospital and make decisions about their medical care, and property inheritance rights. But the bill does not recognize same-sex marriage.

The bill passed the state House on Nov. 30, and went on to pass the state Senate the following day, after 90 minutes of impassioned debate.

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