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Same-Sex Marriage 'Armageddon' in D.C.?

By Marc Fisher
Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Proponents of the District's move to recognize the validity of same-sex marriages sanctioned by four states were thrilled last week when a planned anti-gay marriage demonstration in front of the D.C. Council's offices didn't come off.

But organizers of that rally say that was just a scheduling glitch and that the real thing is happening today at 10 a.m. on Freedom Plaza. The rally, according to lead organizer Bishop Harry Jackson of Hope Christian Church in Bowie, "will launch the Armageddon of the marriage battle in this country."

Jackson predicts that about 1,000 church members and 100 pastors will show up to argue that the apparently unanimous support among D.C. Council members for recognizing same-sex marriage is an affront to Washingtonians and especially to blacks.

"There's a sense that the latte-drinking crowd is doing an end run around the regular people," Jackson told me. "It's a race and a class struggle on this. If 51 percent of the people in D.C. are African American and you have a unanimous vote by the city council on this, somebody's not listening to the people."

Jackson says that although his church is located in Maryland, he lives in the District and expects a large portion of those at the rally to be D.C. residents. But he says he's not the least bit reluctant to recruit out-of-town supporters to put pressure on the city's politicians. He tells me that the Alexandria-based political consulting firm of Shirley and Bannister, a longtime player in conservative Republican national and local campaigns, is handling planning and execution of the effort to defeat D.C. same-sex marriage initiatives, both at the council level and -- should the city pass this and a measure legalizing same-sex bonds here -- in Congress. Jackson won't say who's paying the consulting firm or who's bankrolling his effort to build a coalition of pastors against the D.C. bill.

Jackson is a fiery preacher with strong ties to white evangelical organizations. A frequent speaker on behalf of conservative social causes, Jackson says D.C. Council members who think that both whites and blacks see same-sex marriage as a civil rights issue are wrong. The real division, the minister says, is between those who take their faith seriously and those who are deeply misguided.

"The divide has to do with the intensity of one's faith commitment," he says. "Those who are less informed scripturally are floating down the same direction as many in the culture."

Jackson says it's the media's fault that the anti-gay marriage message is seen in some quarters as antithetical to civil rights. "The black ministers are irate that they are being shut out," he says. "They feel like nobody's listening to them." Washingtonpost.com ran a commentary by Jackson on the marriage issue last week. But council members are mostly dismissive of the ministers who are organizing the rally, saying that most of the members the pastors represent live in Maryland, not the District.

Does the boundary between city and suburbs matter if any move by the District on this issue is indeed, as Jackson warns, certain to morph into a national debate? Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large), the driving force behind the initiatives, says it's high time the city moves ahead to do the right thing, even if that means eventually being stomped on by the lords on the Hill. But some same-sex marriage advocates have long warned against an aggressive approach for fear that a congressional backlash against the District could hurt same-sex marriage's prospects across the country.

That argument seems all too cautious. If the District's goal is the same kind of political independence that other cities and states take for granted, it behooves the city to act as if it already enjoys those same rights -- then let the nation watch as our rights are trampled upon. What better way to raise awareness of the plight of half a million disenfranchised Americans.

E-mail: marcfisher@washpost.com

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