It was two weeks ago when a small group of influential Black pastors in Chicago launched a radio and robo-call campaign to oppose Illinois' marriage equality bill. The robo-calls and radio spot feature the voice of Sen. James Meeks—the outspoken anti-gay mega-church pastor and former state senator—who has become the de facto leader of the Black opposition to the bill.
Another coalition of inclusive, Black Chicago-area clergy members announced their support for the marriage bill yesterday, report the Chicago Sun-Times, Tribune and Northwest Herald. The pastors called the bill "a bold step forward for equality."
The Rev. Carlton Pearson, a Pentecostal minister, called the issue a win-win situation and said there are far more black pastors in Chicago who support the bill but are afraid to come forward. "I think no one here is worried about whether there’s going to be backlash or not, or we wouldn’t be here," [said the Rev. Richard Tolliver, pastor of St. Edmund’s Episcopal Church on the South Side] said. "There will be people who are supportive. There will be people who are not supportive. Our hearts are where they are."
The Rev. Phyllis Pennese, the openly gay pastor of two south suburban churches, said she’s not worried about pastors opposing the bill: "There are more people behind justice than Rev. Meeks could ever drum up to be against justice regardless of what their faith tradition or what their faith commitment is."
One of the strongest statements in support of equality came from the Rev. L. Bernard Jakes of West Point Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago , who noted that many Black LGBT are "active in the African-American church", reported the Tribune. West Point MBC was once the home of gospel legend Albertina Walker.
"Many of the same-gendered loving couples love Jesus as much as I, and they believe in Scripture with the same fervor by which I believe.Their only legal lot in life is they are prevented from sharing in a life-long legal commitment with their partner — many of double-digit years. This is what makes it a matter of civil rights," he wrote.
The Illinois Senate approved its marriage bill by a 34-21 vote on Valentine's Day. The bill awaits a floor vote in the House. Speaker Michael Madigan has acknowledged that passage will be "very difficult.
Illinois' Black civic and political leadership was firmly behind the landmark 2010 vote on civil unions. Rev. Meeks was the only Black in the General Assembly to vote against that bill. Will the narrative change? Of the 20 members of the Illinois House Black Caucus, "only one of the 14 House co-sponsors is Black," notes the Tribune. Many Black politicians have reportedly said they "fear political repercussions."
Ministers opposed to same-sex marriage have warned legislators who vote for it to never come back to their churches, where politicians traditionally campaign on the final Sundays before an election. "It’s a little disheartening," said Democratic state Rep. Will Davis, a Black caucus member who has not made up his mind as he works out whether gay marriage is a moral or public policy issue.
"There are so many large-scale issues important to the Black community, but you’ve never heard from them," Davis said of the churches opposed to gay marriage. "This doesn’t create jobs. It doesn’t create opportunities and, for the most part, they are silent on helping African-Americans getting job opportunities in this state. They are silent on the increasing prison population.”
"When I saw that the lawmakers were excited about passing legislation about same-sex marriage, it’s a slap in the face of the Bible,” said Rev. Lance Davis, bishop of New Zion Christian Fellowship Covenant Church in Dolton."I didn’t see that kind of enthusiasm about stopping children from killing children in the streets."
A December 2012 Public Policy Poll showed that "60% of African Americans surveyed [in Illinois] supported same-sex marriage," reports Illinois Unites. "A recent Crain’s/Ipsos poll shows Illinoisans supporting marriage equality, with 50 percent in favor and only 29 percent opposed."
Illinois would become the second state after Iowa to approve equal marriage in the nation's heartland. Same-sex couples can now legally marry in nine states—Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, Washington—and the District of Columbia.
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