Leaders of the black church react to SCOTUS gay marriage rulings

On Wednesday morning, the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act, allowing federal benefits to same-sex spouses who are legally married in their states. Subsequently, it threw out Proposition 8, making it legal again for gay couples to be married in California.

The DOMA ruling takes a step forward in the fight for LGBT equality by providing the same federal rights to same-sex couples as their heterosexual counterparts, including Social Security survivor benefits, immigration rights and family leave.

A historic day for the nation, the African-American religious community reacted with differing views on the news, as the black church remains divided over the issue.

‘Inevitable outcome’

“It is an inevitable outcome of legalizing marriage in certain states around the country,” Rev. Dr. Howard-John Wesley, Pastor of Alfred Street Baptist Church in Virginia tells theGrio. “I lead a very progressive African-American congregation who’s able to see the complexity of the issue and can say this: We believe the state ought to endorse it.”

The court ruled 5-4 on the provision, which didn’t eliminate all laws limiting the rights of gays and lesbians to marry, but made a significant stance some believe shows where the country is headed.

The decision noted that by defining marriage as only between a man and a woman, the law violates the rights of same-sex couples by demoting their marriages to an inferior status.

Though SCOTUS rejected California’s same-sex marriage ban, it conversely left intact laws banning such marriages in 35 other states.

In Wesley’s mind, legalizing gay marriage is a civil rights issue, not a religious issue, and one for the government to decide. He recognizes the contentions within his own community, and suggests that even if personal beliefs conflict, the church should not be prejudiced.

“What does it mean to be married if you don’t have the same benefits that are offered to other couples?” Wesley observes. “I don’t think marriage is in danger or jeopardy. There is a difference in what we as people of faith are called to do, and what the state and the government are called to do and believe and enforce…We will not be biased or prejudiced against those who are gay and do deserve the right to be married.”

A media ‘barrage’ on gay marriage?

President Obama similarly backed the court’s ruling, tweeting this morning,

“Today’s DOMA ruling is a historic step forward for #MarriageEquality. #LoveIsLove.”

Yet according to Bishop Lance Davis, pastor of New Zion Covenant in Illinois, focusing on gay rights distracts from the more pressing issues concerning African-American freedoms, and furthermore, religious communities should not be forced by a media “barrage” to accept same-sex marriage.

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