Black preachers divided on same-sex marriage, not Obama

WASHINGTON (RNS) The 200 or so African-American pastors gathered here for the Conference of National Black Churches feel strongly about the topic of gay marriage, some for, many against. But there's one thing nearly all of them agree on.

The issue won't distract black voters from supporting President Obama's reelection.

Bishop John Hurst Adams of the African Methodist Episcopal church, who dismissed same-sex marriage as a “wonderful program for population control,” said he was nonetheless behind Obama.

“I love the president ... I’m going to support the president,” Adams said to applause and shouts of "Amen" on Thursday (May 31). “I disagree with his statement.” Last month, the president said he supported same-sex marriage.

The Conference is comprised of nine denominations that include more than 10 million Americans, and all nine oppose same-sex marriage, said Conference Chairman W. Franklyn Richardson, who moderated a session called “A Conversation About Same Sex Marriage.”

But he also noted a diversity of opinions within churches on the topic.

Hilary O. Shelton, the Washington director of the NAACP, which recently endorsed civil marriage for same-sex couples, reassured the audience that churches retain the right to decide whom they will marry in religious ceremonies, no matter the civil law.

And he warned that African-Americans should not allow a repeat of the 2004 election, when he said Republican strategists were able to use Democrats' support of gay marriage to suppress turnout among black voters.

We have “to make sure that we don’t allow that to prevent our folks from going to the polls on Election Day of November of this year and turning out in record numbers because someone decides to use Karl Rove’s game plan on us once again,” he said.

Amos C. Brown, pastor of Third Street Baptist Church of San Francisco, said he would not perform a same sex marriage but believes in equality before the law, including marriage equality for gays and lesbians.

“I’m a Baptist, not a bigot,” Brown said. “Don’t be diverted by these right wingers.”