WASHINGTON — Same-sex marriage is a civil issue and not a religious issue, black religious leaders said Friday as they endorsed marriage equality and urged Maryland residents to vote to legalize gay marriage in November.
Their news conference at the National Press Club was a direct counterpoint to opposition to same-sex marriage from other black members of the clergy.
“We do not have the right to impose our personal religious beliefs on others in matters of public policy,” the Rev. Delman Coates of Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton.
“The denial of rights to some based upon religious belief sets the precedent for the denial of rights of others based on religious belief,” he said.
The religious leaders at the news conference see same-sex marriage as a civil right that should not be determined by the religious views of some.
“This is not an issue about gay or straight, this is an issue about civil rights,” the Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network in New York City, said.
“You cannot be a part-time civil rights activist. You cannot be for civil rights for African Americans, but not for gays and lesbians,” he said. “The question is whether we’re going to protect the society that does not impose the will of anyone on the others that may not agree or may see it differently.”
Some believe that this issue has been manufactured to drive a wedge into the black community.
“They have tried to create a wedge issue, as if gay and lesbian people are the cause of a variety of problems in our community,” the Rev. Otis Moss III, senior pastor of Alfred Street Baptist Church of Christ in Chicago, said.
“It was not gay and lesbian brothers and sisters who caused the high divorce rate in our community. It was not gay and lesbian brothers and sisters who caused underfunding in our school system. It was not gay and lesbian brothers and sisters who caused the economic crash,” Moss said.
“There were heterosexual men and women who helped participate in that particular arena,” he added.
All of the speakers urged listeners to vote yes on Question 6, the Civil Marriage Protection Act, on Election Day, which would determine whether same-sex marriage will become legal in Maryland.
Gov. Martin O’Malley signed the same-sex marriage bill in March, but more than 100,000 citizens signed a petition against the legislation, forcing the issue onto the November ballot. If voters approve the measure, it will allow gay and lesbian couples to obtain a civil marriage license and will protect clergy from performing marriage ceremonies that conflict with their religious beliefs.
The Rev. Anthony Evans, president of the National Black Church Initiative, previously told Capital News Service that he expects many black voters, especially Christians, to abstain from voting for a new president while casting ballots against the same-sex marriage bill. O’Malley has personally campaigned for the legislation and President Barack Obama came out in support of the issue.
“The president knows that we oppose him on this particular issue,” Evans previously told CNS, “(Obama’s) career has just ended by opposing the power of the black church.”
But the “black church” is clearly not monolithic.
Sharpton said he believes that blacks have fought too hard in the past to give up the right to vote because an issue conflicts with their religious values.
“Why would you even suggest after the fight to get the right to vote, that African Americans should therefore give that right back,” Sharpton said, “because somebody disagrees with your personal religion?”
The Rev. Amos C. Brown, senior pastor of Third Baptist Church in San Francisco and a member of the national board of the NAACP, studied under the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. who taught him that, “every person in this nation is deserving of respect for his or her worth and dignity,” he said at Friday’s news conference. “Every person should have equal protection under the law.”
“I never forgot what my teacher taught me, and I submit to all of my friends who are here in Maryland, vote yes on measure six if you really respect and honor Martin Luther King’s sacred memory,” Brown said.
“Don’t trample on the grave of Martin Luther King.”