WASHINGTON, D.C.–Rev. Amos Brown, pastor of the Third Baptist Church of San Francisco, and Rev. Anthony Evans, president of the National Black Church Initiative in Washington, D.C., are brothers of the cloth. Though they share a love for Christ and the Bible, they do not share the same views on same-sex marriage, an issue now before the U.S. Supreme Court.
“I’m not going to ever believe that gay marriage is right,” says Rev. Evans. “It contradicts our tradition within the Black church. We take the Bible very literally when it comes to marriage.”
Rev. Brown, on the other hand, says: “You can’t use the Bible to support your position on this–Jesus didn’t say one word about gays. The Bible also says if your child disobeys you, you should kill them, and that women who are menstruating should not be allowed in church. These are low-case words and actions of men. They have nothing to do with the high-case word of God and Jesus in terms of love and beauty.”
Like Rev. Brown and Rev. Evans, the Black community is sharply divided on same-sex marriage.
Religious beliefs are often at the forefront of opposition to same-sex marriage. Among African Americans in particular, it’s the common denominator among those who are more firmly against the issue.
Among Blacks who attend church on a regular basis, 60 percent are opposed to same-sex marriage. For those who attend less than weekly, only about 43 percent are against, and 42 percent have taken a pro-stance.
Kevin Reid, a 55-year-old Chicagoan and regular churchgoer, considers himself among those opposed.
“I believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman,” he says.
Brittany Galloway, a Washington, D.C., resident, is a 25-year-old nondenominational Christian who attends church on a semi-regular basis. She says the issue of same-sex marriage pits her religious beliefs against societal trends.
“My interpretation of the Bible says being homosexual is wrong, but it’s constantly shown as a societal norm,” Galloway explains. “The Bible also says fornication is wrong. The fact that I live with my boyfriend right now is wrong.”
Galloway attributes her stance on same-sex marriage to her early-school life; she attended Christian school in Maryland from first to 12th grade.
“I don’t want to side with same-sex marriage just because the world is for it even though my Bible says it’s wrong,” adds Galloway. “I don’t think I should have to compromise on that.”
The most quoted Bible verse on the issue is Leviticus 18:22: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.”
Supporters of same-sex marriage argue that the majority of the Bible’s mentions of homosexuality are in the Old Testament–the period during which things like not standing in front of elders, cutting your hair, and not mixing fabrics were also prohibited.
The issue of same-sex marriage extends beyond the pulpits to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is expected to rule on the issue in late June or early July. The court will rule in two cases, one involving federal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and the other involving California’s Proposition 8, the state constitutional amendment enacted by voters in 2008 limiting marriage to one man and one woman.
DOMA, passed in 1996 under President Bill Clinton, restricts same-sex couples from interstate recognition and federal benefits such as tax returns and Social Security survivors’ benefits. The constitutionality of DOMA was argued in front of the Supreme Court on March 27.
If the Supreme Court declares a ban on same-sex marriage in California unconstitutional, that decision could have an effect on all states, something Evans says he’s not worried about.
“The Supreme Court can say they have a right to marry, but that doesn’t mean we have to respect that,” Evans says. “It doesn’t mean we have to marry them either.”
Rev. Brown of San Francisco does not perform same-sex marriages, but that hasn’t dampened his support for them.
“This nation is not a theocracy, it’s a democracy,” says Brown. “I think that Black people must also remember that we got our rights based on that 14th Amendment. I think that it’s wrong for any Black preacher to do to others what has been done to them. We ought to just let people be different and be who they are. If we get to that point, the better this nation will be, the better the family will be, and the better this church will be.”
Unlike the majority of Americans, Blacks do not favor same-sex marriage, Still, African Americans are becoming more open to the idea, with about 40 percent now for same-sex marriage, with about 48 percent remaining opposed to the idea, according to a Pew poll.
That’s a dramatic shift from just 10 years ago when only 26 percent of Blacks supported same-sex marriage.
What has changed?
Gavin Delisser, 22, says being exposed to more gay people while living in Atlanta led to his taking a more open-minded stance.
“I grew up in a household with my pops, who is from Jamaica, and Jamaicans are raised to think of being gay as an abomination,” Delisser says. “But living in Atlanta you can’t avoid [gay people] and you’d be ignorant to them.”
“I mind my business,” Delisser adds. “If they want to get married, that’s on them.”
Galloway says although she doesn’t believe same-sex marriage is right, she doesn’t want to be seen as a social pariah, or discriminatory towards gays, because of her religious beliefs.
“I still love [gay people], I love everyone,” Galloway says. “I don’t think it should be seen as a reason to discriminate. I just think that the Bible is pretty clear on what it says as it relates to what’s right and what’s wrong.”
Renae Brooks, 62, a retired first grade teacher in Naperville, Ill., says the reaction of church leaders has led her to look favorably upon the idea of same-sex marriage.
“Being an African American and being constantly up against discrimination, I can’t feel for a group of people that’s being treated with injustice,” says Brooks. “Everybody has a right to live the way they live,” Brooks says. “I feel like they’re being discriminated against. I don’t even know that I would be so in favor if I didn’t think they were being discriminated against.”
Brooks, recalls being in Catholic mass one Sunday and listening to a priest rant about how gay couples can’t properly care for children. She says his statements upset her and contributed to her feelings of acceptance toward the gay community.
“Religious people will tell you that [being gay] is not the way it’s supposed to be–but it’s also meant to not be so hateful,” Brooks says. “That’s equally as wrong.”
Evans says the clergy can’t avoid taking unpopular stands.
“Part of being a clergy is interpreting the Christian tradition through revelation; culture does not force Biblical interpretation. Biblical tradition forces culture,” Evans says. “There is a solid ethical tradition about marriage and human morality.”
Rev. Bernard Richardson, dean of the Howard University Rankin Chapel, argues that the issue of same-sex marriage shouldn’t be seen as a religious one.
“We have couched it in a religious as opposed to a civil rights issue,” Richardson says. “I believe that the issue of same-sex marriage and gay rights is a spiritual issue in terms of our care and concern for God’s people.”
Maya Rhodan | NNPA Washington Correspondent