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BPFNA Partner Congregation Pastor Says Marriage Decision is a "Cause for Rejoicing"
December 16, 2009 | bpfna
DC set to become 6th jurisdiction in US with legal same-sex marriage
By Robert Marus
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
WASHINGTON (ABP) -- The District of Columbia Council voted overwhelmingly -- and despite vocal protests from a coalition of conservative evangelicals and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington -- to legalize same-sex marriage in the nation’s capital Dec. 15.
By a bipartisan 11-2 vote, the city’s elected representatives gave final approval to the bill, which legalizes gay marriage but also guarantees that churches will not be forced to perform or accommodate same-sex nuptials. If Mayor Adrian Fenty (D) signs the bill into law, as he has promised, then Congress has 30 days to review the bill. Although Congress has veto power over any DC legislation, that would require the House, the Senate and President Obama all to agree to overturn the measure -- a prospect most political observers consider highly unlikely.
Nonetheless, opponents of same-sex marriage -- largely a coalition of conservative African-American ministers and Catholic leaders -- vowed to take their fight to Congress anyway. “We are going to exercise our constitutional rights,” said Anthony Evans, associate pastor at Washington’s Mt. Zion Baptist Church, according to the Washington Post. “This is not a win today. This is an insignificant blip that cannot become law until the process ends, and we are going to stop it in every way we can.”
But Amy Butler, pastor of Washington’s Calvary Baptist Church (a BPFNA Partner Congregation) and a member of Clergy United for Marriage Equality, an interracial coalition that supported the bill, called its passage “a cause for rejoicing.”
“Of course, it is imperative that the state not mandate religious practice of any kind, but the opportunity for loving, same-sex couples to share the same rights as heterosexual couples in the District of Columbia is a significant move toward justice for everyone,” Butler, who also writes a biweekly column for Associated Baptist Press, said.
The bill, called the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Act of 2009, was co-sponsored by 10 members of the DC Council, including its two openly gay members. One other council member lent his support just before the first vote on the bill Dec. 1.
The only council members to oppose it -- Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) and Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7) represent poor, overwhelmingly African-American parts of the city east of the Anacostia River. Polls have consistently shown blue-collar blacks to be more conservative on gay rights than on other contentious social issues.
Barry is a former mayor of Washington. Another former Washington politician, Baptist pastor Walter Fauntroy, was one of several prominent local African-American clergy who vocally oppose gay marriage. They have been joined by national conservative groups -- such as the Family Research Council and the National Organization for Marriage -- in their opposition to gay marriage in the District.
The bill contains language making explicit protections for churches and religious organizations that gay-rights advocates say are already provided by the First Amendment. One section says houses of worship or other organizations operated by or affiliated with religious groups “shall not be required to provide services, accommodations, facilities or goods for a purpose related to the solemnization or celebration of a marriage, or the promotion of marriage, that is in violation of the entity’s religious beliefs, unless the entity makes such services, accommodations, or goods available for purchase, rental, or use to members of the general public.”
But officials from the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington unsuccessfully argued for stronger language protecting religious organizations that provide social services with city funds. One of the District’s largest social-service providers, the Archdiocese has taken the position that the gay-marriage bill could require it to provide spousal benefits to the same-sex spouses of employees who work for churches or local Catholic charities.
“Religious organizations have long been eligible to provide social services in our nation’s capital and have not been excluded simply because of their religious character,” diocesan officials said in a statement released shortly after the vote. “This is because the choice of provider has focused on the ability to deliver services effectively and efficiently. We are committed to serving the needs of the poor and look forward to working in partnership with the District of Columbia consistent with the mission of the Catholic Church.”
If the bill takes effect, D.C. will join Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Iowa as the only jurisdictions in the United States with legal same-sex marriage. Gay marrige was legalized by the California Supreme Court and the Maine Legislature, but popular votes in both of those states overruled the actions. Gay-marriage opponents in Washington attempted to get an initiative to ban same-sex marriage on the ballot in the District, but D.C. officials said the city's Human Rights Act bars popular referendums on basic civil rights.
Robert Marus is managing editor and Washington bureau chief for Associated Baptist Press.