By Tim Craig
Friday, October 30, 2009
Although ministers opposed to same-sex marriage in the Disrict have campaigned more vigorously, a growing number of religious leaders are mobilizing to support the proposal.
About 200, representing nearly every faith, have formed D.C. Clergy United for Marriage Equality. On Thursday night, more than 100 of them gathered at Asbury United Methodist Church in Northwest Washington to support a bill that D.C. Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) introduced this month that would allow same-sex couples to marry.
"There is this myth out there that you can't be pro-God and pro-gay," said the Rev. Robert M. Hardies, senior minister of All Souls Church, Unitarian, in the Columbia Heights area. "We are doing the best we can to share the message that there is strong support from within D.C.'s religious community for equality."
The church service comes as opponents redouble efforts to scuttle the bill. Bishop Harry Jackson, pastor of Hope Christian Church, and others are seeking a referendum on banning same-sex marriage in the District. On Monday, nearly a dozen ministers asked the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics to approve a public vote.
But after being overshadowed by same-sex marriage opponents, religious leaders who back the concept are speaking out.
"The coalition here is able to identify across all lines, all wards of the city, all races, all backgrounds," said Nick McCoy, an organizer for the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights group. "People have come to the forefront with the argument that this something that churches don't back and believe in, and we say, that is not true."
The Rev. Louis Shockley of Asbury noted at the church service that the sanctuary was founded 173 years ago as a congregation for slaves.
"This congregation has always stood for social justice," he said. "We welcome all on this night to continue the march of justice by standing on the side of love."
At Monday's council hearing on Catania's bill, the religious officials backing same-sex marriage outnumbered those opposing it.
One supporter, the Rev. Christine Y. Wiley, pastor at Covenant Baptist Church in Southeast, noted that many District churches have a history of fighting for social and economic justice.
Wiley and her husband, the Rev. Dennis W. Wiley, helped form the coalition. "It just really seemed like a natural thing that we would do," Wiley said. "We believe as African Americans who have been discriminated against . . . we don't have the right to discriminate against anyone else."
About 10 people attended the group's first meeting in June. It now has a list of 169 supporters, including the Rev. Steve Huber of Washington National Cathedral and Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb of Adat Shalom in Bethesda.
The Rev. Patrick J. Walker, chairman of the Task Force Against Same Sex Marriage of the Missionary Baptist Ministers Conference of D.C. and Vicinity, said he understands that religious leaders have varying views of marriage. But he said he doesn't "understand it from what the Bible says in terms of traditional, biblical views. Where do you draw the line?"
Despite the activism on both sides, many area pastors are staying out of the debate.
"There is whole range of churches out there who aren't with us, but they are not with Harry Jackson either," Hardies said. "We are hoping to reach them through dialogue."