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Rev. Al Sharpton.
At a September 21, 2012 press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., a group of prominent African-American pastors endorsed Maryland's Question 6, which will be voted on in November. If passed, Question 6 will affirm the law passed in March to authorize same-sex couples to marry in Maryland.
As John Riley reports in MetroWeekly, eleven ministers, led by the Rev. Delman Coates, pastor of the 8,000-member Mt. Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, Maryland, expressed their support for civil marriage equality.
Coates told the audience at the Press Club that "As pastors and clergy leaders, we are here today to declare our unequivocal support for Maryland's Civil Marriage Protection Act and to dispel the myth that all African-American pastors are fundamentally opposed to the idea of marriage equality."
Coates expressed unease with the idea of voting on someone else's civil rights.
"When the rights of the minority are submitted to a vote, all too often the minority loses," he said. "But I am confident that over the course of our advocacy in Maryland this year, and the evolution of views nationally at the highest levels, we are seeing attitudes change, which causes us to be confident that Marylanders will allow fairness for all to be the guiding principle that informs their support for Question 6 on the November 6th ballot referendum."
He also emphasized that the debate over Question 6 was a question of public policy rather than a debate about religious beliefs. He pointed out that Question 6 and the underlying marriage-equality law explicitly provide religious protections for institutions and clergy who decide not to perform same-sex marriages.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, a MSNBC television host and former presidential candidate, also spoke at the conference.
"This is not an issue about gay or straight, this is an issue about civil rights," he said, and added that "to take a position to limit the civil rights of anyone is to take a position to limit the civil rights of everyone. You cannot be a part-time civil rights activist. You cannot be for civil rights for African-Americans, but not for gays and lesbians."
Other speakers at the event included the Rev. S. Todd Yeary, senior pastor of Douglas Memorial Community Church in Baltimore; the Rev. Brad Braxton, senior pastor of The Open Church in Baltimore; the Rev. Christine Wiley of D.C.'s Covenant Baptist United Church of Christ; and Susan Newman, associate minister of All Souls Church in D.C. Wiley and Newman, both Maryland residents, said that many of their congregants are also Maryland residents who will be supporting Question 6.
The Rev. Donte Hickman, senior pastor of Southern Baptist Church in Baltimore, who testified alongside Coates in favor of marriage equality before the Maryland General Assembly, also attended the press conference, though he did not address the crowd.
In addition to voicing their support for Question 6, the pastors also challenged attempts by others to use President Obama's support for marriage equality as an argument to persuade religious African-Americans not to vote in November.
They denounced the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) for attempting to "drive a wedge between gays and blacks."
Asked if they would appear in commercials on behalf of marriage equality to counter ads by opponents who have purchased four weeks of pre-election advertising, Sharpton said he would.
Coates and Braxton said their group of clergy will be engaging in several events to educate the public about Question 6 as part of a "full-court press" to convince voters to support the ballot question.
Coates described his group as "mainstream voices in the African-American community on this issue," as opposed to a rival group of African-American pastors who held a press conference in Virginia to oppose marriage equality.
"The black church represents that tradition of African-American Christian religion that has been on the side of freedom, justice and equality. Those voices that you hear [here] today represent a black-church tradition," he said.
In the video below, made in February 2012, Rev. Al Sharpton speaks out in favor of marriage equality in Maryland.