Chicago Sun-Times: Gay marriage support about civil rights, not religion, pastors say

  ·  Tina Sfondeles , Chicago Sun-Times   ·   Link to Article

Thirteen Chicago-area black pastors on Thursday voiced their support for gay marriage in Illinois, saying the issue is about civil rights and not about religion.

The support comes a day before former state Sen. James Meeks, pastor of Salem Baptist Church, and a group of black pastors plan to voice their opposition to the bill. Meeks is the voice of robocalls aimed at African-American households in the city, warning that family structure will be jeopardized if same-sex marriage is legalized. Meeks could not be reached for comment.

“Discrimination is wrong no matter who the target is. ... This is about equality and justice,” said the Rev. Richard Tolliver, pastor of St. Edmund’s Episcopal Church on the South Side. “This is a matter of equal protection under the law for all citizens. This is not a religious issue.”

Tolliver said the legislation protects religious freedom and preserves the rights of religious groups who do not believe in same-sex marriage.

“Churches and other religious institutions don’t have to marry anyone they don’t want to,” he said. “The wording gives very specific religious protection so that nothing in your church will change. Despite what others say, the African-American community understands this difference.”

Tolliver cited a December poll from Public Policy Polling that found 60 percent of black voters in Illinois support the passage of a same-sex marriage bill, while 16 percent oppose it.

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,” Tolliver said. “There will be people who are supportive. There will be people who are not supportive. Our hearts are where they are. ... There are no outcasts in the church of God.”

Pearson said he expects more support from black pastors in coming weeks.

“We have nothing to fear. I think we’re speaking for far more preachers than you’ll ever see on a stage like this, until a few more weeks or a month,” Pearson said. “Once it happens, then everyone will join us.”

The Rev. Phyllis Pennese, the openly gay pastor of two south suburban churches, said she’s not worried about pastors against 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.”

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