Bishop Harry Jackson Jr., a conservative pastor who led an unsuccessful fight to overturn D.C.’s same-sex marriage law in 2010 and later served as an evangelical adviser to President Donald Trump, died on Monday, Nov. 9 at the age of 66.
Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Md., where Jackson served as senior pastor, announced his passing in a message on its website but did not disclose the cause of death.
“It is with a heavy heart that we notify you that our beloved Bishop Harry R. Jackson Jr. has transitioned to be with the Lord on November 9, 2020,” the message states. “Please pray for the Jackson family’s comfort and respect their right to privacy at this time.”
Jackson attended a White House ceremony in late September in which President Trump officially announced his nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to be a U.S. Supreme Court justice. Several administration officials, including Trump and First Lady Melania Trump, tested positive for the COVID-19 virus a short time after the ceremony.
Jackson, a longtime Maryland resident, created a stir in D.C. in 2009 when he announced he had become a D.C. resident and took out petitions to place a referendum on the ballot to overturn a law legalizing same-sex marriage that the D.C. Council approved and then-Mayor Adrian Fenty signed.
The D.C. Council and several states had approved same-sex marriage laws prior to the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the country.
Based on information received from knowledgeable sources, the Washington Blade reported that a rented efficiency apartment that Jackson listed as his legal residence in order to become eligible to initiate a voter referendum was located in a condominium apartment building near the Washington Convention Center that was ineligible for being rented under the rules of the condominium association.
The owner of the apartment told the condo board that Jackson was his roommate and did not have a separate lease for the apartment. But LGBT activists and others raised questions about whether Jackson actually lived in the building. Other sources told the Blade Jackson and his wife were seen arriving and leaving the couple’s house in Silver Spring, Md., during the time Jackson claimed to be living in D.C.
The Blade’s stories prompted a local neighborhood activist to file a complaint with the D.C. Board of Elections challenging Jackson’s legal residence in D.C. The elections board ruled a short time later, following an investigation, that Jackson’s living arrangement met the legal requirements of D.C. residency.
That enabled Jackson and other opponents of same-sex marriage to move ahead with their planned voter referendum on the marriage equality law. But supporters of the law, including LGBT activists, quickly called on the Board of Elections to reject the referendum on grounds that a separate D.C. law banned initiatives and referenda if such ballot measures would lead to discrimination banned under the city’s Human Rights Act.
The activists argued that a referendum resulting in the banning of same-sex marriage would violate the human rights law’s prohibition against discrimination based on sexual orientation. The election board agreed with that argument and disqualified Jackson’s proposed ballot measure. Jackson, with the help of attorneys supportive of his proposed ballot measure, challenged the election board’s decision in court. The D.C. Superior Court and the D.C. Court of Appeals rejected Jackson’s court filings.
He then brought his case to the U.S. Supreme Court calling on the high court to issue an injunction forcing the city to delay the implementation of the same-sex marriage law while he continued his court challenge. Chief Justice John Roberts, acting on behalf of the high court, in March 2010 issued a ruling rejecting Jackson’s appeal for an injunction preventing the same-sex marriage law from taking effect.
Roberts ruled that Jackson and others opposed to the same-sex marriage law could not show they could win their case on its merits. He also cited the Supreme Court’s longstanding practice of deferring to the decisions of lower courts in D.C. on “matters of exclusively local concern.”
The Supreme Court’s ruling appeared to end Jackson’s involvement in local D.C. affairs. But two years later, in October 2012, he created a stir when news surfaced that he stated in a sermon at his Beltsville church that he placed a curse on the Washington Blade in part for its coverage of his attempt to overturn the D.C. same-sex marriage law.
Jackson said he placed his curse on the Blade two months before the Blade’s November 2009 shutdown following a bankruptcy filing by its former parent company, Window Media.
“I remember one night I walked past one of those newsstands,” Jackson said in his recorded sermon, referring to one of the Blade’s sidewalk boxes used to distribute the paper. “As I was walking past it I looked at that newsstand and it had some article about same-sex marriage – all of that stuff on it,” he said.
“And I laid my hands on that newsstand and I said, ‘In the name of Jesus, I curse this newspaper!” he said. Speaking in a loud voice, Jackson added, “In less than two months, the paper went bankrupt. It was part of a six-state, six newspaper chain. It went bankrupt. It went out of business. It went under!”
Jackson didn’t mention in his sermon that the Blade’s staff continued to publish after the Window Media bankruptcy. Within the next several months, three staff members formed a new company that later purchased the rights to the Washington Blade’s name from the bankruptcy court. The staff never missed a week of publishing during the upheaval.
The Religious News Service reported on Monday that as one of President Trump’s unofficial evangelical advisers, Jackson visited the White House on numerous occasions and attended the president’s closing speech at the Republican National Convention earlier this year.
“A conservative Black pastor in the charismatic tradition, Jackson was outspoken in his opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage,” Religious News Service reported in its Nov. 9 report on Jackson’s death. But the report says Jackson was also an advocate for prison reform and economic development.
“What I believe is that the whole left and right paradigm that politics has chosen to create for itself is fundamentally incorrect because the Bible has both what we call left and right issues,” RNS quoted Jackson as saying in a 2005 interview.