Last, year, Black religious leaders were instrumental in defeating a bill that would legalize gay marriage in Maryland. This year, proponents of the bill have enlisted the help of prominent Black ministers, including nationally recognized civil rights leader and MSNBC host, the Rev. Al Sharpton.
In a YouTube video posted during the week of Feb. 6, Sharpton pitched his support for the legislation, wading into what has been a contentious debate.
“As a Baptist minister, I don’t have the right to impose my beliefs on anyone else. So if committed gay and lesbian couples wanna marry, that’s their business. None of us should stand in their way,” Sharpton said in the Web ad created for the Marylanders for Marriage Equality group.
“Rev. Al Sharpton is one of the most recognized voices in the country when it comes to pursuing basic fairness,” said Sultan Shakir, campaign manager for the organization, which is a coalition of gay rights groups. “We are grateful that such a tireless advocate has lent his voice to help make all Maryland families stronger.”
Sharpton is one among several faith leaders that have spoken out in support of the Civil Marriage Protection Act, a key measure on Gov. Martin O’Malley’s 2012 legislative agenda. In a recent article on www.afro.com two ministers voiced their support, lauding the fact that churches would not be forced to perform gay nuptials, and that the bill “make way for stronger families through marriage.”
“Currently, children in straight households live under one set of laws while the children of gay families live under another set of laws. That’s wrong. We are all children of God, and every child deserves to be protected equally in the eyes of the law,” wrote Rev. Angela Shepherd, the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland’s Canon for Mission and Outreach, and Rev. Starlene Burns, a Washington, D.C. area minister.
That idea of “fairness” was also central to Sharpton’s support. “All of us should fight for what’s fair and for what’s right. The time is now. Let’s be fair; let’s do the right thing,” he said in the ad.
The Rev. Donte Hickman, senior pastor of the Southern Baptist Church in Baltimore, and the Rev. Delman Coates, a pastor from Prince George’s County, were among those who testified in support of the measure on Feb. 10 during a 10-hour hearing on the topic before Maryland lawmakers.
“It doesn’t threaten my religious convictions,” Hickman said, according to a Baltimore newspaper. The state should not dictate religious doctrine, he said, and the church should not determine public law.
“Let the church be the church, the state be the state and God be the judge,” Hickman said.
Other Black ministers disagree that supporting same-sex marriage is the “right thing.” Delegate Emmett Burns, a Baptist minister and Baltimore County Democrat, has been a vocal opponent of same-sex marriage. His stance, he said, was formed during his youth when two men approached him for sex, which he deemed “unnatural.”
“It [same-sex marriage] is not only bad for religious institutions, it’s bad for every institution in the state of Maryland,” Burns told reporters.