Prince George's ministers make last-minute push against same-sex marriage bill

Rev. Nathaniel Thomas talks about the effort to lobby against Md.'s same sex-marriage bill, and Delegate Veronica Turner talks about her continuing efforts to decide how she will vote on the measure.
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, March 8, 2011; 10:29 PM

More than a dozen ministers from churches in Prince George's County were among religious leaders lobbying Maryland lawmakers in a last-ditch effort to defeat same-sex marriage legislation, which they say violates God's law.

The Prince George's pastors said they took a stand on behalf of family. "We didn't come tonight against anybody. We came for the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman," the Rev. Joel Peebles, pastor of the 19,000-member Jericho City of Praise in Landover, said Monday night in Annapolis.

He was accompanied by his wife, Yolanda, and dozens of church members as he headed for a meeting with Del. Veronica L. Turner (D-Prince George's). "We believe that this is something that is beneficial to children, so we had to bring folks here to support that," Peebles said.

The Rev. Nathaniel Thomas of Forestville New Redeemer Baptist Church said opponents of the legislation are not filled with hate or bigotry. "What we are focused on is the word 'marriage,' " he said. "We're not talking about anyone not having rights. But when you use the word 'marriage,' that goes directly to what the church believes is a relationship between a male and a female."

At the conclusion of the meetings, the preachers, along with Catholic and Jewish leaders, held a brief prayer vigil outside the State House in Annapolis, where they sang religious songs and asked for divine intervention in their effort to defeat the bill.

Although religious opposition to same-sex marriage, particularly from African American ministers in Prince George's and the Maryland Catholic Conference, is not new, religious lobbying is becoming particularly intense as a final vote approaches on the gay nuptials bill, most likely Friday. Debate in the House is scheduled to begin Wednesday.

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) has said he will sign it if it reaches his desk.

"This is extremely important," said Monsignor Edward Filardi of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Bethesda, who was accompanied by several members. "They are not only changing the nature of marriage between a man and a woman, they are confusing an important distinction that defines marriage."

Supporters of the legislation have argued that the primary purpose of the bill is to give gay couples the same rights the government provides to heterosexual married couples. The bill contains language making clear that religious organizations are not required to participate in same-sex weddings or celebrations. Supporters argue that other people's religious beliefs shouldn't prevent them from being married in the eyes of the government.

The bill passed the Senate 25 to 21, without support from any of the black senators from Prince George's: Joanne C. Benson (D), Ulysses Currie (D) and C. Anthony Muse (D), who is also pastor of Ark of Safety Christian in Upper Marlboro. Prince George's, the nation's most affluent and best-educated majority-black jurisdiction, is home to some of the largest and most influential churches in the nation.

Last week, Del. Tiffany T. Alston (D-Prince George's) voted against the bill in committee even though she was a co-sponsor of the legislation, usually an indication of strong support.

Del. Melony G. Griffith (D-Prince George's) said she supports the state's current definition of marriage. "I've always opposed the bill," she said. "I support the state's definition of marriage and share the views of the constituency." Calls to her office have been running about 25 to 1 against the bill.

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