CHICAGO—Since the Illinois Senate passed its same-sex marriage bill on Valentine’s Day, proponents and opponents of the measure have amped up their arguments in hopes of drumming up more support to sway undecided congressmen.
This month, two separate groups of prominent African-American Chicago area ministers spoke out —one for and one against— on Senate Bill 10, that would allow same-sex couples to marry legally.
Among a group of black ministers who pledged support for the bill, Rev. Richard Tolliver of St. Edmond’s Episcopal Church, told theGrio, “I feel this is a civil right issue and under the Constitution. Same-sex couples should have the same legal protection and benefits that marriage provides heterosexual couples.”
Will Obama’s home state follow his lead?
President Barack Obama endorsed same-sex marriage in 2012 after years of saying his views on the topic were “evolving.” Illinois lawmakers who agree are hoping that congressmen in Obama’s home state will follow suit and make Illinois the 10th state to legalize same-sex marriage.
The United Church of Christ has traditionally been in support of the LGBTQ community. Locally, Trinity United Church of Christ’s Rev. Otis Moss was among a group of ministers who testified in support of the same-sex marriage bill at the Illinois legislature in February, a representative of the church said. He was not available for comment Tuesday.
“It’s not a religious issue at all, it’s a civil rights, human rights issue that we, as black folks in particular, because of our history, should be supportive of,” said Rev. Booker Vance of St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church in Chicago, who is part of the supporting group.
Vance notes, “We live in a pluralistic society, with various faiths and denominations and people who are not of faiths, and because of that, when we talk about civil unions and relationships under the law, the Bible, while I believe in it and while I follow it, does not dictate for the rest of society.”
Reconciling the Bible with the bill
Opposing ministers contend the Bible teaches that marriage should be between a man and a woman, and that the proposed legislation would “redefine marriage.” Many say they are uncomfortable with the topic’s characterization as a civil rights issue.
The newly formed African-American Clergy Coalition recently launched a multimedia effort against the legislation including radio ads, a website and robo-calls.
Last week, the group joined forces with Francis Cardinal George, Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, who in January wrote a letter to Illinois legislators, representing more than 1,700 faith communities urging them to vote “no” on the bill.
The bill has special provisions, which would not require churches to marry same-sex couples if they choose not to.
The Chicago-area church leaders said they spoke out because silence may seem that they are condoning legalizing gay marriage.
“We want our congregations to be clear that there are ministers who do not (support same-sex marriage). We want all of the believers to know where we stand, so that if we’ve never said anything, it doesn’t appear that we’ve acquiesced our responsibilities,” said Rev. Byron Brazier, pastor of the Apostolic Church of God.
A bitter divide
Chicago’s Archbishop said legalizing gay marriage in Illinois “…will not serve the common good of our people…”
“We love people, period. But there are certain principles we must stand on,” said Bishop Willie James Campbell, the Jurisdictional Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. “We stand on the word of God. And I’m not hating anybody, and we hope and pray that nobody hates us for our stance.”
Salem Baptist Church of Chicago’s pastor James Meeks, who is a former Senator and still considered influential in the political arena, arrived after Friday’s press conference for a private meeting between the group and Cardinal George.
Meanwhile in the state Capitol, even though the measure passed in the Illinois Senate in February, the House remains divided on the contentious vote, with no definitive date of when the bill could be called to the floor. Proponents have been focusing their efforts on undecided congressmen, including the 20 black representatives, most of who have not made their intentions known and could hold the key to same-sex marriage in the state.
Bill sponsor Rep. Greg Harris does not have the 60 votes needed to pass the bill yet, but he remains positive that undecided votes could be swayed.
“I believe it’s something that all of my colleagues should be supporting,” Harris said. “I really believe that Illinois will have marriage equality this summer.”
Democratic Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn said he would sign the bill into law once it passes in the House.
Renita D. Young is a multimedia journalist based in Chicago. Follow her on Twitter @RenitaDYoung