- The Washington Times - Friday, May 1, 2009

CITIZEN JOURNALISM

When 12 of 13 D.C. Council members voted last month (Marion Barry was absent ) to recognize gay marriages performed elsewhere, some expected a storm of protest and opposition from the city’s pulpits.

But not a word was heard collectively from the faith community - initially.

Though they preach homosexuality is a sin, men and women of the cloth did not go sweeping through city streets proclaiming, “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”

The silence was broken Tuesday, however, when a delegation of area ministers and religious organizations gathered at Freedom Plaza to stand in solidarity against gay marriage.

“We are adamantly against it,” said the Rev. Henry A. Gaston, president of the Missionary Baptist Ministers’ Conference of Washington D.C. and Vicinity, whose membership includes many notable preachers. “Evil prospers when good people do nothing,” he said.

The topic of gay marriage has finally found fertile ground on the nation’s political landscape and now, for marriage-hopeful gays, the District is prime real estate, supporters said.

“This is the march toward human rights and equality,” said council member David Catania, at-large independent. “And that march is coming here.”

The council takes a final vote Tuesday on the proposal to recognize gay marriages.

If signed into law, the bill would allow gay D.C. couples to marry in one of four states that allow gay marriages, then return to the District and have the marriage recognized under city law.

About 200 people attended Tuesday’s rally in Freedom Plaza, which is across the street from City Hall. The gathering included Catholic, Protestant and non-denominational clergy and supporters. Many of them carried signs and placards.

Rallying the crowd, the lead organizer, Bishop Harry Jackson of Hope Christian Church in Bowie, declared: “Those who would paint us with a different brush, we are about to rock your world.”

Mr. Barry said he was enthralled by the crowd and that he would have voted no on the gay legislation.

“No same-sex marriage in D.C.,” he said.

Mr. Gaston said his group wrote letters of opposition to each council member and vowed to be active in the fight for the sanctity of marriage involving one man and one woman.

East Washington Heights’ senior pastor, the Rev. Kip Banks, called the council’s preliminary approval vote “troubling.” He said that it’s a clear disconnection between the council and the faith community.

Religious leaders have made substantial gains through political influence, civil disobedience, mass demonstrations and protests, so their early silence on the issue of gay marriage in the District made some suspicious of accepting defeat or even giving consent.

In the past, several well-known pastors in the area made headlines decrying homosexuality and alternative lifestyles. The common refrain was that gay marriage not only erodes the ecumenical, moral and social fabric of society, but it also threatens to destroy the structure of family.

Union Temple Baptist Church’s pastor, the Rev. Willie F. Wilson, outraged the District’s gay community in 2005 by stating: “Lesbianism is about to take over our community.”

Less than a year later on Palm Sunday, Bishop Alfred Owens of Greater Mount Calvary Baptist Church called on “all the real men [to] come on down and take a bow,” prompting then-Mayor Anthony A. Williams to demand an apology from Bishop Owens, a member of his Interfaith Council.

The Rev. James E. Hardy, pastor of Greater Light Missionary Baptist Church in Capitol Heights, said, “It [gay marriage] goes against the principles and word of God.”

But activist Peter Rosenstein said the Founding Fathers’ church-state separation clause was “brilliant,” and the goal of gay marriage proponents is not to force churches to marry gay people. He said their objective is civil marriage.

While the District does not allow gay marriage, its domestic partnership laws grant the benefits of marriage. Same-sex couples who register as domestic partners are granted the same rights as spouses regarding inheritance, probate and guardianship. They are also allowed to visit their partners in the hospital and make death arrangements. The law also covers premarital agreements, the right not to testify against partners in court, and the filing of joint tax returns.

D.C. government employees registered as domestic partners are eligible for health insurance, and paid or unpaid leave that can be used to care for a domestic partner or a partner’s dependents as well as for the birth or adoption of a child.

• Jeri Washington is a freelance writer living in the District.

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