Black clergy members from across the country teamed up in support of Maryland’s same-sex marriage law Friday, framing the debate as a civil rights issue that should trump personal religious beliefs.
“To take a position to limit the civil rights of anyone is to take a position to limit the civil rights of everyone,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton, the civil-rights advocate and former presidential candidate, who was one of 11 clergy members who spoke at a news conference in Washington, D.C.
“You cannot be a part-time civil rights advocate. You cannot be for civil rights for African-Americans, but not for gays and lesbians,” Sharpton said.
The General Assembly voted to legalize same-sex marriage in the state earlier this year, but opponents petitioned to put it before voters in the November election; it will be the sixth of seven statewide ballot questions.
The legalization of same-sex marriage was a natural extension of the civil-rights movement of the 20th century, said the Rev. Dr. Amos C. Brown, senior pastor of the Third Baptist Church in San Francisco and a former student of Martin Luther King Jr.
Brown also evoked the story of Thurgood Marshall, the first black U.S. Supreme Court justice, who was denied admission to law school at the University of Maryland because of his color.
“I say to all the Marylanders: Don’t forget what Thurgood did, don’t trample on the grave of Martin Luther King. But make sure you be concerned about everybody having the right,” Brown said. “The black community does not own the civil rights movement. We got the methodology of that movement from a little Indian man named Mohandas K. Gandhi.”
But a leading opponent of same-sex marriage in Maryland dismissed Friday’s news conference as an attempt to get out the vote for President Barack Obama rather than a sincerely-felt statement of principle.
“Most of those guys don’t believe that,” said Derek McCoy, who is both a minister and executive director of the Maryland Marriage Alliance, which led the petition drive to put the law on the ballot.
McCoy dismissed the analogy between same-sex marriage and the civil rights movement. “Does this, the redefinition of marriage, look like that [struggle]?”
The Rev. Delman Coates, senior pastor of the Mt. Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton and a prominent supporter of same-sex marriage in Maryland, rejected common biblical arguments against the law when he spoke at the news conference.
“The Bible was used to justify slavery,” Coates said. “It was used to defend the subjugation and the subordination of women. And the system of Jim Crow segregation that African-Americans fought so long and hard to end was justified by some, all in the name of God.”
Religious leaders should be able to change people’s minds by preaching, not by using the law as their tool, Sharpton offered as a parting shot.
“Any preacher that can’t win converts should not have to legislate to [make] up for his ineptness,” he said.