A group of prominent black clergy today urged Maryland voters to support the state’s same-sex marriage law in the November referendum.
“As pastors and clergy leaders, we are here today to declare our unequivocal support for Maryland’s Civil Marriage Protection Act and to dispel the myth that all African American pastors are fundamentally opposed to the idea of marriage equality,” said Rev. Delman Coates, senior pastor of the 8,000 member Mt. Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, Md., during a press conference at the National Press Club in downtown Washington. “For too long the issue of equal treatment under the law for gay and lesbian couples has been mired in a theological debate between those on the one hand who oppose same-sex marriage based upon their religious beliefs, and those on the other who affirm it based upon theirs. And while this is a legitimate discussion for people of faith to have, the appropriate arena that conversation is the house of worship, the seminary, the Bible study or some other religious setting.”
Rev. Howard-John Wesley, senior pastor of Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, Va., echoed Coates. He noted during the press conference that many of his congregants live in Maryland — specifically Prince George’s County.
“I will impress upon my membership to vote yes on this issue on the Nov. 6 ballot referendum simply because this act is civil, not religious,” Wesley said. “In no way [does] it [infringe] upon our religious freedom as an institution to define marriage as we would, to perform the rite of marriage according to our doctrinal believes nor in the same way does it infringe upon the state to protect the civil liberties of all its residents.”
Rev. Christine Wiley of Covenant Baptist United Church of Christ in D.C.; joined Rev. Brad Braxton of Open Church and Rev. S. Todd Yeary of Douglas Memorial Community Church in Baltimore; Rev. Frederick Haynes of Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas; Rev. Otis Moss, III, of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago; Rev. Amos Brown of Third Baptist Church in San Francisco and others at the press conference.
Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network, applauded Coates and other black clergy for their support of Maryland’s same-sex marriage law.
“This is not an issue about gay or straight,” said Sharpton at the press conference. “This is an issue about civil rights and to take a position to limit the civil rights of anyone is to take a position to limit the civil rights of everyone. You cannot be a part-time civil rights activist. You cannot be for civil rights for African Americans, but not for gays and lesbians.”
This announcement comes less than two months before Marylanders will vote in the referendum on the same-sex marriage law that Gov. Martin O’Malley signed in March.
A Hart Research Associates survey conducted in late July found that 44 percent of black Marylanders would support Question 6, compared to 45 percent who would oppose it. A Public Policy Polling survey in May found that 55 percent of the state’s black voters support marriage rights for same-sex couples.
Benjamin Jealous, president of the Baltimore-based National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is among the prominent black leaders who have backed Question 6. Same-sex marriage advocates and others have noted that both President Obama’s support of nuptials for gays and lesbians and the NAACP Board of Directors’ resolution in support of the issue have had what they describe as a positive impact on public opinion among black voters.
Bob Ross, president of the Prince George’s Branch of the NAACP, appeared in a new web ad earlier this week in support of Question 6. The civil rights organization’s Maryland State Conference and Baltimore affiliates have also backed same-sex marriage, while other black supporters of nuptials for gays and lesbians appeared in a separate web ad that Marylanders for Marriage Equality released in July. Bishop Harry Jackson of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville remains one of the most prominent Question 6 opponents.
Josh Levin, campaign manager for Marylanders for Marriage Equality, the group defending the state’s same-sex marriage law, conceded in a fundraising pitch to supporters on Thursday that his group has only been able to purchase a week’s worth of television air time “in some places so far.” This admission comes on the heels of what he described as the “four weeks of commercial time on TV stations across Maryland” that Question 6 opponents have already bought.
“Our opponents are smart, well-funded and willing to play on the politics of race and fear in order to win,” wrote Levin in the e-mail that stresses Marylanders for Marriage Equality needs to raise $500,000 over the next two weeks to counter these ads. “And we know from past experience in other states that if we let them have the airwaves to themselves, we will lose.”
Sharpton noted to the Washington Blade during the press conference that he appeared in an ad ahead of the same-sex marriage bill’s passage in February.
“One thing I’ve never been accused of being is bashful,” he said when asked if Marylanders for Marriage Equality had asked him to appear in a pro-Question 6 spot. “I’ll do whatever because I see this as a civil rights issue.”
“This is a full court press,” Coates said. “In the remaining days and weeks leading up to Nov. 6, there are a variety of strategies that we can do and engage in across the state to educate further persons, to educate Marylanders about what this is about and what it is not. This is a full-court press and we’re creating strategies.”