Black Pastors in Mich. Join Fight After Gay Marriage Ban Overturned

Friday, 13 Jun 2014 12:37 PM

By Andrea Billups

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A coalition of black ministers and Christian leaders from Detroit and across Michigan have joined to file a "friend of the court" brief supporting an appeal by the state's attorney general after a federal judge overturned a ban on gay marriage in March.

The group of about 200, which includes pastors of several faiths, argues in its court filing supporting Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette that they "bear the responsibility to oppose unsound doctrines and to oppose practices that are harmful to the following of God's teachings as outlined in the Bible."

The brief said it was meant to "support the vote of 2.7 million citizens of Michigan who cast their vote and enacted the Michigan Marriage Amendment to secure the sanctity of the traditional family."

Voters in Michigan went to the polls in 2004 to approve Proposal 2, an amendment to the state's constitution, upholding the ban on gay marriage 58 percent to 41 percent.

But in March, a federal district judge ruled the ban violated the U.S. Constitution's Equal Protection Clause, setting up an appeal by the state.

The Michigan case is expected to be taken up in August by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The brief was filed on behalf of the pastors by attorneys from the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Stacy Swimp, a spokesman for the coalition and founder of Revive Alive Missional Ministry, told Newsmax the black ministers in his group are outraged that gay rights activists are comparing their struggle over marriage to the civil rights movement.

"To state that marriage redefinition is in any way similar to the civil rights movement is intellectually empty, dishonest, and manufactured," Swimp said.

"When has anyone from the LGBT demographic ever been publicly lynched, specifically excluded from moving into neighborhoods, prohibited from sitting on a jury, and denied the right to sue others because of their sexual preferences?" Swimp said.

Swimp said the pastors are speaking up as more judges are ruling against bans on gay marriage, including recent decisions in Wisconsin and North Dakota. Currently 19 states have legalized gay marriage while 31 still prohibit same-sex marriage.

"I understand that there is a tidal wave that is taking place across the country which unfortunately, I believe, is driven by Biblical illiteracy, constitutional illiteracy, and a profound lack of understanding that this nation is a Republic and not a democracy," Swimp told Newsmax. "Our Constitution should not be subject to cultural trends. The rule of law should always stand eternally."

Swimp, in a May interview on the Janet Mefferd radio show, decried the work of what he described as "activist judges" around the country.

"If, in fact, most Americans have ever been in favor of marriage redefinition, then why is it that ravaged, activist judges of the Appeals Courts of various districts have had to overturn the ballot results — the will of the people — if, in fact, the people themselves were in support of this?" Swimp told the Christian radio host.

Gay rights activists in Michigan have pledged to work to get the issue back on the state ballot in 2016 if court challenges do not go in their favor and have launched a public awareness campaign, Michigan for Marriage, and are working with the ACLU and other groups to get their views heard.

They have also joined with a separate ministerial coalition, which stepped up in May to say they do not oppose gay marriage — even as other members of the area's faith community speak out against it.

The group notes that public opinion polls in the state now show that 56 percent of voters support marriage equality.

"Michiganders believe that our home state should be a place where every family is treated fairly and equally under the law and where every child can be raised in a home unharmed by discrimination," said Equality Michigan Executive Director Emily Dievendorf in a statement on the group's website.

One Detroit-area pastor has stepped forward to say the coalition of black pastors does not speak for everyone, including many of the city's ministers.

The Rev. Dr. Michael C.R. Nabors, a senior pastor at the New Calvary Baptist Church in Detroit, in a column published by pridesource.com, said he is using his own foundation of scripture in forming his beliefs. Nabors says he is saddened by the actions of the other pastors and must "come out of the closet" in response.

"They are standing up to claim a sort of spiritual mandate from God that gives them permission to speak for people of faith. … As a matter of fact, many African Americans refuse to stand up and defend the LGBT community because their clergy has taught them that to do so is sinful," Nabors wrote.

"I am coming out of the closet as a heterosexual, male pastor, with all the privileges this has afforded me in more than 30 years of ministry, to say that I do believe in gay rights," Nabors said. "I also believe that if gays love each other in the way I love my wife … it is perfectly fine for them to be married."

The black ministers' coalition argues in its amicus brief that a lower court wrongly used the case Loving v. Virginia in making its case for overturning the ban. The Loving case dealt with interracial marriage and the 14th Amendment's protection over freedom of association.

Merging civil rights and gay marriage rights, the brief noted, is offensive to blacks who have fought valiant struggles for equality.

"Comparing the dilemmas of same-sex couples to the centuries of discrimination faced by black Americans is a distortion of our country's cultural and legal history," the brief notes. "The disgraces and unspeakable privations in our nation's history pertaining to the civil rights of black Americans are unmatched. No other class of individuals, including individuals who are same-sex attracted, have ever been enslaved, or lawfully viewed not as human, but as property."

The brief also raises the issue of parenting by same-sex couples, which gay marriage opponents have argued deprives children of a father and mother.

"It is clear from our very existence that men are made for women, and women for men. None of us would be here but for that truth," their brief notes. "Another self-evident truth is that it is best for children to be raised by their parents whenever possible. There have been many theories to the contrary throughout history, but they have all proven vacuous at best. Public policy that recognizes and acts on these truths is not unfairly discriminatory."

Erin Mersino, trial counsel at the Thomas More Law Center, noted that in writing the black pastors' brief, "we were very careful to make sure that they see this not as coming from any sort of place of anger, [but] coming from a place of love."

Mersino said cases being heard in other states on the issue of gay marriage are "a real implementation of U.S. v Windsor," the landmark Supreme Court ruling that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, which was passed by Congress in 1993.

The legal issues in the Michigan case involving the Equal Protection Clause are different with an eye on federalism.

"This is a different issue. What is the state's right in defining marriage?" she told Newsmax. "You are going to see different arguments pertaining to federalism and they will be distinct from U.S. v. Windsor."

For that reason, she adds, "I believe this will be seen before the Supreme Court."


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