Anti-gay activists took to Capitol Hill on Thursday to speak out against LGBT rights as they condemned President Obama’s recent endorsement of marriage equality.
Bishop Harry Jackson, senior pastor of the Hope Christian Church and among the leaders in the fight against the legalization of same-sex marriage in D.C. and Maryland, led a news conference, which was sponsored by the anti-gay Family Research Council.
Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage was a particular point of consternation for Jackson, who wondered aloud whether Obama intended to employ the “bully pulpit” of the presidency to “absolutely erase the image of biblical marriage from the face of the earth.”
“Voters need to know whether they have a friend or … an enemy to an institution that God has ordained,” Jackson said. “Some of us have taken his statements as a declaration of political war against the venerable institution of marriage.”
Jackson drew attention to a letter that he said social conservative leaders sent to President Obama expressing their disapproval of his support for same-sex marriage as well as his other work in LGBT advocacy.
“The undersigned pastors and Christian leaders write to raise serious concerns over your recent declaration of support for same-sex ‘marriage,'” the letter states. “This declaration follows a long trail of actions by your administration that subvert the law of the land as well as the good of society. From permitting open homosexuality behavior in Armed Forces, to opposing state marriage amendments, to refusing to defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act, to giving taxpayer-funded marriage benefits to same-sex couples, you have undermined the spirit if not the letter of the DOMA law.”
A White House spokesperson didn’t respond to a request for comment on the letter.
Jackson assserted the president’s support for same-sex marriage was particularly troublesome for racial minority communities, whom he contended held the view that marriage is between one man and one woman.
“What was most concerning about the president’s comments was it seemed to be a slap in the face of black clergy,” Jackson said. “They seem to say I know that you hold these views, and that in the marriage amendment battle in the great State of California, 70 percent voted for marriage, while nearly 95 percent voted for President Obama. … Given those kinds of statistics, it seemed and felt to some of us who happened to be African-American; it felt like an insult, or a gauntlet was laid down.”
But numbers that Jackson cited from California in 2008 have been debunked by studies of the exit polls on which they are based, and a new poll suggests that a growing number of black Americans support same-sex marriage in the wake of President Obama’s announcement. A Washington Post/ABC News poll published on Wednesday found that 59 percent of African Americans now support same-sex marriage, with 65 percent approving of President Obama’s position.
Jackson threatened “political consequences” for Obama as a result of his announcement in support of same-sex marriage and said he’d continue to oppose same-sex marriage, eliciting applause from participants at the news conference.
As part of efforts to protest Obama’s support for same-sex marriage, Jackson called on churches to participate in a 40-day fast; asked church leaders to read a statement on Father’s Day affirming marriage as one man, one woman; and called on voters across racial groups and religious denominations to cast their votes based on moral conscience whether they identify as Democrat or Republican.
Tony Perkins, the Family Research Council’s president, also spoke at the news conference and argued that LGBT advocates have to win same-sex marriage through legislative or court action because they can’t achieve it through a vote of the populace.
“The president has said that he’s OK with states defining marriage as a union of a man and a woman,” Perkins said. “I guess that’s pretty good, since the 32 states that have voted, have voted in favor of traditional marriage. If you can do the math, that’s more than half the states.”
That may change in November when voters in as many as four states — Maine, Minnesota, Maryland and Washington — will decide at the polls the issue of same-sex marriage. In Maine, the support for same-sex marriage is promising. A poll from April found that support for same-sex marriage has reached 58 percent among the electorate.
Those who took part in the event appeared to largely consist of conservative religious leaders. Participants seemed to have been taking part in a lobby day and wore badges saying “Defense of Marriage.” The Family Research Council didn’t respond to a request for comment on more information on the event, but Perkins said the news conference took place after an annual pastors conference where nearly 600 people gathered from 46 states.
Other social conservatives who spoke at the news conference also had harsh words for Obama in the wake of his support for same-sex marriage.
Bishop Joseph Mattera, overseeing bishop of the New York-based Christ Covenant Coalition, accused Obama of subverting the family. Mattera said he’s been a senior pastor for 29 years and that his grandmother was the first ordained female Hispanic minister in New York City.
“It would be like saying it’s OK for us to counterfeit American dollars and have no consequences,” Mattera said. “When you counterfeit something, you cheapen the value of it, and by counterfeiting marriage with alternate definition of it, you actually weaken it. As a Hispanic leader, I want to say that my community needs strong marriages.”
Mattera said he thinks Obama endorsed same-sex marriage to drew attention away from the economy as the general election approaches. suggesting the economic conditions of the country don’t warrant Obama’s re-election.
Jim Garlow, chair of Renewing American Leadership, said Obama’s support for marriage equality undermines the definition of the union — even within the president’s own family.
“I would pose the question to the president: which one is unimportant — father or mother?” Garlow said. “By his redefinition, one will have to go. Is your wife so unimportant, sir, that she can be replaced by simply any other male? Or is there value in the fact that one man and one woman, a father and a mother, the person who contributes the egg and the sperm as they come together are best in the position to protect and nourish and care for that child?”
Garlow also took issue with Obama asserting that he and first lady Michelle Obama are “practicing Christians” and invoking his belief in Jesus.
“We didn’t ask for this argument,” Garlow said. “He moved to our arena and declared it in those words. That being the case, maybe a basic ‘101’ of Christianity. It would be wise for him to know that throughout historic, orthodox, authentic, biblical Christianity — and there’s no other kind of Christianity other than Biblical Christianity — marriage has always been defined as one man, one woman.”
Fernando Carbrera, a Democratic member of the New York City Council, also took issue with Obama’s support for same-sex marriage and said it troubled his constituents in his district that has heavy presence of racial minorities.
“I represent a district of about 160,000 people mainly made up of Latinos and African Americans, constituents that have said to me over and over again that they support traditional marriage,” Carbrera said. “I’m here to say to my president, to my Democratic president, ‘Do not take the Latino and African-American vote for granted.'”
Carbrera said marriage should remain one man, one woman because only that union enables the creation of children. Responding to arguments that some opposite-sex couples are unable to have children, Carbrera asserted, “But they have the potentiality for it.”
Anne Gimenez, a pastor for the Rock City Churches in Virginia Beach, Va., noted the various backgrounds of individuals who oppose same-sex marriage at the conference.
“We’re here from so many various backgrounds and differences,” Gimenez said. “But those differences don’t matter to us today because we stand here — we’re the church. And we’re united, and we’re united over this issue. And I call upon every believer, every Christian across the nation to take the biblical stand for marriage.”
Gimenez said her granddaughter was present at the news conference and wanted her to know that her grandmother took a stand “because it’s important for our families, and our children, and our great grandchildren.”
Speakers at the news conference also decried comments from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) during a news conference earlier this month when the Democratic leader said he’d be open to repealing the Defense of Marriage Act legislatively.
“If it gets on the floor, we’ll be happy to take a look at it,” Reid was quoted as saying in Politico. “It’s an important piece of legislation.”
LGBT advocates countered the statements from anti-gay activists at the news conference by saying their views amounted to an attack on the LGBT community and misrepresent the views of religious and minority groups.
Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, called their words “extremist, insulting, and just plain nasty comments” that stand in stark contrast to Obama’s description of his evolution in coming to support marriage rights for gay couples.
“Happily, the values embraced by the president — the Golden Rule of treating others as you would want to be treated, fidelity to the bedrock American commitment to liberty and justice for all, respect for the love and commitment of real families — resonate much more deeply with most people than the divisive attacks, political red-meat, and reckless disregard for evidence, truth, and logic that we saw on display at the right-wing’s latest show,” Wolfson said.
Paul Guequierre, a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, said views expressed by the activists placed them “on the wrong side of history and are in the minority on the issue of marriage equality” and cited the recent polls showing growing support for marriage equality — even among religious groups and racial minorities.
“People of faith in this country support marriage equality and support among African Americans is on the rise,” Guequierre said. “The myth that religious people don’t support LGBT equality has been debunked.”
Asked by the Washington Blade at the news conference how the legalization of same-sex marriage affects opposite-sex marriage, Jackson replied, “It’s the change in the definition of an institution in this time of shifting morals and values, the changing of that definition is significant. Young people don’t have role models; they have no idea how to be an appropriate father or a mother, and really at the very heart of the church, and the very heart of a nation, a free democracy, strong families need to be there, so it’s about the definition.”
In a follow-up inquiry, the Blade asked whether it’s true that opposite-sex couples can still marry in places where same-sex marriage is legal. Jackson wouldn’t take the question during the conference, but responded to the Blade afterward.
“I don’t think anyone was implying that traditional marriage would be destroyed in terms of the opportunity for people to enter into it,” Jackson said. “What I’m talking about — the structure if you want to call it that — of traditional, biblical marriage is that the terms, the roles the way people conduct in day-to-day life right now is hanging by a thread.”
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), a Tea Party favorite, was scheduled to speak alongside other anti-gay activists at the news conference, but didn’t make an appearance. His office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on why he was absent.