Plans to draw money and support from Maryland's African-American churchgoers to fight next year's marriage-equality legislation have moved forward, but fundraising particulars have not yet been sorted out, the top leaders of a group organizing the mobilization recently told The American Independent.
The Rev. Errol Gilliard, Sr., of Baltimore's Greater Harvest Baptist Church, is the leader of this religious coalition against gay marriage, presently called the Progressive Clergy and Laity in Action (PCLA). Gilliard told TAI that membership is currently up to about 75 people, made up of mostly of Christian clergy and non-clergy -- and several attorneys -- from Baltimore and surrounding counties. The group has been meeting regularly in Baltimore County and will hold its first fundraiser in November, he said.
Organizations* involved in PCLA so far, according to Gilliard, include an ad hoc group of Baltimore City ministers, the Family Research Council affiliate the Maryland Family Alliance, the Missionary Baptist Ministers' Conference of DC & Vicinity and several Baptist churches in Baltimore, such as Sharon Baptist Church and Gospel Tabernacle Baptist Church.
When Gilliard and Maryland House Del. Emmett C. Burns, Jr., announced the formation of the PCLA at a press conference at Gilliard's church in September, the two leaders explained that the group's purpose was to combat legislation legalizing same-sex marriage expected to be reintroduced to the Maryland General Assembly next year. Efforts to bring marriage equality to Maryland during the 2011 session of the General Assembly did not go far after furious mobilization by opponents of same-sex marriage.
However, Gilliard told TAI this week that the organization eventually intends to take up issues beyond same-sex marriage.
"We are not just a fly-by-night group," he said. "We're not a hate group. This is not just a few preachers who are bigots."
Speaking with TAI, Gilliard repeatedly said his group is not against gay people or against same-sex partners having legal benefits. He was adamant about the Progressive Clergy and Laity in Action not being perceived as sponsors of hate speech. Responding to Southern Poverty Law Center's designation of the Family Research Council -- one of PCLA's members -- as a "hate group," Gilliard said his organization is only aligned with FRC on its position against same-sex marriage but none of its other controversial positions.
"We are not fighting the homosexual lifestyle," he said. "We are fighting the attempt to redefine marriage.”
The team has not created a budget nor officially filed a political action committee (PAC) with the Maryland State Board of Elections. Gilliard said his personal attorney is deciding whether or not the PCLA will create a PAC or organize for and donate money to another PAC organized to oppose same-sex marriage legislation. The PCLA will attempt to raise more money at a fundraiser to be held sometime next month, though the details have not yet been finalized.
Civil unions vs. marriage rights
Gilliard said he supports civil unions for gay and lesbian couples, but not same-sex marriage, which he said is “just a means of making legal what God has already declared unlawful."
“The Bible is right," he told TAI. "Same-sex marriage is wrong.”
Gilliard preaches every Sunday at the Greater Harvest Baptist Church at 8 a.m. and at 11:30 a.m. His boisterous sermon is broadcast live on the "Grace & Glory Show" on local Baltimore TV the first Sunday of each month and every Sunday at 8 p.m. on WCAO Heaven 600 AM.
One episode, broadcast in August was devoted to the topic of same-sex marriage, titled, "The Bilble [sic] Is Right Same Sex Marriage Is Wrong."
An excerpt from the live-recorded sermon:
"And Paul says, ‘This thing called homosexuality is nothing more than a slap in the face of God.' He says, ‘I got three reasons why homosexuality is wrong, because it’s listed among all the other sins. ... He put it right there with adultery, right there with fornication, right there with … lying, right there with stealing. …’ Because all unrighteousness is sin. ... John said, 'If you’re guilty of offending one part of the law, you’re guilty of offending the whole law.' ... You can’t be a thief and not be a liar. ... You can’t be an adulterer and not be a murderer. … You can’t be a fornicator without being a freak or a pervert. ...
Here’s the problem with homosexuality. It calls God a liar, from the beginning of creation. Because God made Adam and Eve. He made both male and female, and then God put Adam with Eve, not Steve and Stefan. Come on, not Eva and Erlene. … And then God said, ‘What I have joined together, let no man put asunder.' If I put you together, don’t you let the governor, don’t let Obama … don’t let none of them separate what God –- same-sex marriage is wrong. It’s rebellion against God. And anytime you rebel against God, you are headed with a rendezvous in judgment."
It was on the issue of civil unions versus same-sex marriage that Gilliard and other PCLA members recently sparred with Maryland state Sen. Joan Carter Conway (D-Baltimore City), who was invited to a meeting last Thursday at Greater Harvest Baptist Church to explain why she supported same-sex marriage this year.
"I told the ministers that I was conflicted because based on my Christian upbringing, [I support] traditional marriage, but [I voted for the bill because of the] benefits to partners and to the children of partners," Conway told TAI.
Conway estimated between 40 and 50 people attended last week's meeting, a mix of ministers, non-clergy and attorneys from Baltimore, Prince George’s County and Anne Arundel County. She said there was denominational and racial diversity among the members, and the majority appeared to be members of the Democratic Party, noting that Dels. Burns and Talmadge Branch (D-Baltimore City) were in attendance.
Conway said she explained to the group that certain legal benefits, depending on different situations, such as employment, were only available to married spouses; therefore, a civil union would still not be a legal equivalent to a marriage. She said she encouraged the group to read the religious exemptions proposed in the bill (PDF) and then explained to them aspects of the Maryland's political process she said appeared to confuse them.
Some members wanted to know how Maryland's unenforced sodomy laws (which at one time made crimes of "non-child-bearing sexual acts" punishable by a $1,000 fine and up to 10 years' imprisonment) would be affected by legalizing same-sex marriage. Conway said she told them they would be repealed.
Conway said she left the meeting agreeing to disagree with the PCLA members.
"They were agitated that I had voted for the bill," she said. "They do not want marriage redefined."
Opposing the broader state Democratic Party
Burns previously told TAI that this coalition's role is partly to sway Maryland Democratic leaders who are African-American to vote against the same-sex-marriage bill. More recently, he told TAI: "We have a big tent. We can oppose certain legislation."
Asked to respond to comments Gilliard made after the September press conference, when he referred to Maryland's Democratic party as "immoral," and likely to "support bestiality," Del. Burns said he did not think his party was immoral, just "very liberal."
Recently, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, who has promised to support the marriage-equality legislation when it is reintroduced in the state's 2012 legislative session, appeared in a video sponsored by the pro-same-sex-marriage coalition Marylanders for Marriage Equality, which includes NAACP's Baltimore Chapter; the Service Employees International Union (SEIU); the American Civil Liberties Union's Maryland chapter; Progressive Maryland; Equality Maryland; Human Rights Campaign; the National Black Justice Coalition; the Gay and Lesbian Task Force; Family Equality Council; Catholics for Equality; Maryland Faith for Equality; Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFFLAG)' and the Maryland chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW).
"I'm a Marylander for marriage equality," O'Malley says in the video. "As a free and diverse people of many different faiths, we choose to be governed under the law by certain fundamental principles. Among them, equal protection under the law for any individual and for free exercise of religion without government intervention."
"The governor is in another world on this one," Burns said about O'Malley's support for the marriage-equality bill, suggesting the governor should instead focus on issues more relevant to Marylanders, such as the high rate of foreclosures in the state, particularly in Baltimore.
When asked the same question, Burns replied that the campaign to oppose same-sex marriage was about the "cart pulling the horse," in defeating bad legislation.
*Correction: TAI previously reported that the Maryland Catholic Conference was among the organizations affiliated with the Progressive Clergy & Laity in Action, but a spokesperson for the Maryland Catholic Conference has since told TAI the organization is not officially affiliated with the Rev. Errol Gilliard's group, though the Maryland Catholic Conference does support the effort to prevent the marriage equality legislation from passing.