WASHINGTON (NNPA) – 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 Jesus 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,” said Evans. “It contradicts our tradition within the Black church. We take the Bible very literally when it comes to marriage.”
Brown, on the other hand, said, "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 the preachers, African Americans are sharply divided on same-sex marriage.
Religious beliefs are often at the forefront of opposition to same-sex marriage. Among Blacks, in particular, it’s the common denominator among those who are against the issue.
Kevin Reid, 55, of Chicago, is a regular churchgoer. He opposes gay marriage.
“I believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman,” he said.
Many Black opponents point to the most-quoted Bible verse on the issue, Leviticus 18:22, which reads, "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination.”
Brittany Galloway, 25, of Washington, D.C., who attends a non-denominational church, said 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,” she said. “The Bible also says fornication is wrong. The fact that I live with my boyfriend right now is wrong.”
Galloway attributed 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," she said. "...My Bible says it’s wrong. I don’t think I should have to compromise on that."
Supporters of same-sex marriage argue that most mentions of homosexuality in the Bible are in the Old Testament, along with prohibitions against standing in front of elders, cutting your hair and mixing fabrics.
The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on the issue in late June or early July. The court will rule in two cases, the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s Proposition 8, a state constitutional amendment limiting marriage to one man and one woman.
DOMA, passed in 1996 under President Bill Clinton, bars Internal Revenue Service recognition of same-sex couples and restricts from the couples federal benefits, including Social Security survivors’benefits. The constitutionality of DOMA was argued in front of the Supreme Court on March 27.
If the Supreme Court declares the ban on same-sex marriage in California unconstitutional, the decision could have an effect on other states, something Evans said 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,” he said. “It doesn’t mean we have to marry them, either.”
Rev. Brown of San Francisco does not perform marriages for same-sex couples, but that hasn’t dampened his support for them.
“This nation is not a theocracy, it’s a democracy,” he said. “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.”
African Americans are becoming more open to same sex marriage, with about 40 percent now for same-sex marriage while 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 discriminate against 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.
Says Brooks: “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 Howard University’s Rankin Chapel, argues that the issue of same-sex marriage shouldn’t be seen as a religious one.
“We have couched it as 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.”