By Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
A diverse coalition of more than 100 clergy gathered in a Southeast Washington church yesterday to show their support for same-sex marriages in the District.
"We declare that our faith calls us to affirm marriage equality for loving, same-sex couples," said the Rev. Dennis Wiley, pastor of the Covenant Baptist Church, as he stood in the pulpit of his church before religious leaders from all eight wards of the city.
The clergy, who have formed a group called D.C. Clergy United for Marriage and Equality, plan to challenge the efforts of a more conservative group of pastors who are pushing for a referendum on same-sex marriage. Last month, the D.C. Council voted to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, and some council members plan to introduce a bill to allow the marriages to be performed in the District. Some members of Congress have said they will attempt to block same-sex marriage from becoming legal in the District.
The group supporting same-sex marriage -- composed of clergy from a wide range of Christian faiths and several rabbis -- was formed in response to a group of pastors led by Bishop Harry Jackson of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville. Together with the Ministers Conference of Washington, D.C., and Vicinity, the more conservative pastors have formed the Stand Up for Marriage Coalition to lobby against the D.C. Council legislation on same-sex marriage.
The Rev. Robert Hardies, senior minister at All Souls Unitarian Church in the District, yesterday criticized the language some opponents of same-sex marriage have used in the debate. He cited a prediction by council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) that same-sex marriage would result in "civil war" in the city and Jackson's labeling the council bill a "declaration of war."
"I believe it is wrong to use the language of war to speak about a matter of love," Hardies said, adding, "We can and we must have an open and robust conversation without tearing our community apart."
The Rev. Alton B. Pollard III, the dean of the divinity school at Howard University, evoked the message of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and his "Letter From Birmingham Jail," in which King challenged white ministers to be more tolerant of people of other races.
"Our movement toward a more perfect union also and necessarily includes the diverse expressions of human love," Pollard said. "Same-gender loving couples deserve our full and unfettered support to legally marry precisely because of love."
There also was an acknowledgement that people of faith differ on the issue.
"Recognizing that there is heartfelt disagreement on this issue, we call on all people of the District of Columbia to engage in respectful and loving dialogue on marriage equality," said a joint statement issued by the group.