Black clergy from across the country are planning to announce their support for same-sex marriage in Maryland this week.
The pastors and other clergy, led by the Rev. Delman Coates of Mt. Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, are hoping that their public display of support will help erase the perception that all black pastors are against gay marriage. "The impression that all African-American pastors are fundamentally opposed to the idea of marriage equality is wrong," Coates said. They are also hoping to clarify that the legislation does not affect churches and clergy who choose not affirm same-sex marriages or perform related ceremonies.
The group is trying to counter black religious leaders, such as Maryland pastor Harry R. Jackson Jr. and the Rev. William Owens, head of the Coalition of African-American Pastors, who have been campaigning against the legislation for months and condemning supporters who say the fight for marriage equality is an extension of the civil rights movement.
Coates' group is scheduled to assemble at the National Press Club on Friday to urge Marylanders to uphold the state's same-sex marriage legislation on their November ballot. The legislation, which allows religious institutions to grant civil marriage licenses to same-sex couples, was passed by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Martin O'Malley in February -- but it failed to become law because opponents gathered enough signatures to delay implementation until Marylanders could vote on it in November.
Black pastors who have organized against the law say it would loosen the definition of marriage to eventually allow polygamy.
"Though homosexual marriage advocates constantly slander the rest of us as irrational, hateful bigots, most people's objections are quite sensible," Jackson, pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, wrote on his church's website on Saturday. "They do not want schools teaching their children ideas about homosexuality that will disrespect their religious convictions. They are also concerned that if we 'loosen' the definition of marriage once, we may do it again. Almost no one is comfortable with legalized polygamy, for example, but if marriage no longer means one man and one woman, what's to say it won't mean three or four people?"
If the law is upheld, Maryland could become the first state in the nation to approve same-sex marriage legislation in a referendum vote and the seventh state to legalize the unions. Same-sex marriage proponents have lost referendum votes in 32 other states, most recently in North Carolina.
Maine, Minnesota and Washington are also voting on gay marriage questions this fall.
Hoping to make history in Maryland, O'Malley and other same-sex marriage supporters have been going the state to raise funds for the legislation. O'Malley has helped organize fundraisers in Connecticut, New Hampshire, San Francisco and, most recently, New York, where supporters paid between $250 and $25,000 to attend the star-studded event.