WASHINGTON — A group of African American clergy were joined by the Rev. Al Sharpton for a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington on Friday to voice their support for Maryland’s marriage equality law, and to dispel the myth that all black ministers are against same-sex marriage.
About a dozen clergy joined Sharpton, including Rev. Amos Brown of San Francisco and Rev. Delman Coates of Clinton, Md., to express support for the November ballot referendum in Maryland that would allow voters to approve or reject the state’s new civil marriage law.
“This is not an issue about gay or straight, this is an issue about civil rights,” said Sharpton. “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.”
Coates, who is senior pastor of Mt. Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, Md., said people should not have the right to impose personal religious beliefs on others in matters of public policy, and emphasized that the debate over same-sex marriage needed to be a question of public policy, rather than a debate over religious beliefs.
“Admittedly, many of us find the idea of voting on someone else’s civil rights a bit disconcerting,’ Coates continued. “When the rights of the minority are submitted to a vote, all too often the minority loses.”
Sharpton, who hosts “Politics Nation” on MSNBC and is president of the National Action Network, said that theological debates should take place in churches, not in government.
In Crystal City, across the Potomac from Washington near the Pentagon in Arlington Va., the Coalition of African American Pastors, or CAAP, held its own press conference Friday with several of the black ministers traveling from Tennessee. The group says it stands for what the bible says.
Founder Reverend William Owens said President Obama “sold us out,” referring to the debate over same-sex marriage.
“All of who follow him who are weak and who have non-biblical principles, I don’t care if they have reverend in front of their name, to lead a society downhill for money is sinful and it’s wrong and that’s what they are doing,” said Owens. “It’s all about money.”
Bishop Harry Jackson, a leading black clergyman in the fight against same-sex marriage — first in the District of Columbia, and more recently in Maryland — appeared on CBN Friday, and told African Americans who might be torn between voting for Mormon like Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama, who he said supports an “anti-God, anti-church agenda,” that they cannot simply stay home and not vote.
Instead, Jackson declared, they must support the candidate “whose values line up with clear Biblical mandates,” and said that “if you can vote for abortion and you can vote for the redefinition of marriage; you want to vote for two men marrying, or open the door for two women and three men and all kinds of crazy stuff – if you can do that and the Holy Spirit can be with out in the ballot box, more power to you.”
The two sides are becoming more visible as election day approaches. Maryland, which has a black population of about 30 percent, is one of four states where voters will decide the issue in November.
Kevin Nix, a spokesman for Marylanders for Marriage Equality, said the group would be getting its message out in every way, including television, radio and online.