‘With Liberty and Justice for ALL’

AP The Rev. Delman Coates, senior pastor of Mt. Enon Baptist Church in Clinton, Md., speaks while the Rev. Al … Continued


The Rev. Delman Coates, senior pastor of Mt. Enon Baptist Church in Clinton, Md., speaks while the Rev. Al Sharpton, president, National Action Network, right, and Rev. Dr. Howard-John Wesley, senior pastor of Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria look on as they announce support for the civil marriage of gay and lesbian couples during a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, Friday, Sept. 21, 2012.

On Nov. 6, 2012, 148 years after becoming “The Free State,” voters in the state of Maryland will have an opportunity to make history by becoming the first state in the Union to pass a marriage equality law at the voting booth, thereby extending the guarantees of equality to gay and lesbian couples in our state. Admittedly, I find the idea of voting on someone else’s civil rights a bit disconcerting because when the rights of a minority are submitted to a majority vote, all too often the minority loses. Nevertheless, I am hopeful that Marylanders will allow fairness to be the guiding principle informs their support for Question 6 on the ballot referendum.

As a Christian pastor, I am often asked why I have been so unapologetic in my advocacy for marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples. My answer is that for too long the issue of marriage equality has been mired in a theological debate between those on the one hand who oppose same-sex marriage based upon their religious beliefs, and those on the other who affirm it based upon theirs. While this is a legitimate debate for people of faith to have, the appropriate arena for that conversation is the house of worship, the seminary, the Bible study, or some other ecclesiastical setting. In a free, pluralistic democracy, we must recognize the distinction between the religious rite of marriage and the civil right of marriage. The former is the province of houses of worship, and the latter is the province of the state.

Sarah L. Voisin


WASHINGTON, DC – The Rev. Delman Coates, senior pastor of Mount Ennon Baptist Church, is among a group of clergy in Maryland who have endorsed gay rights. He leads a baby dedication after one of the services in February.

What I value as an American is the freedom we have of and from religion, which means that all Americans have the right to their theological convictions, but we do not have the right to impose our personal religious beliefs on others in matters of public policy. Marriage equality for me is primarily a public policy issue, not a theological one. It refers to the ability of two persons of the same sex to receive a civil marriage license, and to receive all of the rights and benefits of marriage accorded by the state. As a matter of justice and fairness, the state has an obligation to provide legal protection for all its citizens without the imposition of subjective theological interpretation. The state should not codify discrimination because of who people choose to love.

As our country becomes more diverse, the values that ought to inform our public policy discussions ought to be the values we share in common as Americans; values such as freedom and equality for all, rather than the beliefs that distinguish us. History has shown us that people have used religion to justify slavery, segregation, and the subjugation of women. Internationally, we have witnessed the sectarian strife and division that is caused when governments attempt to govern based upon subjective theological interpretation. That, however, is not what America is about. We endeavor to be a society where all people, regardless of their color, class, creed, country of origin, gender, or sexual orientation can live side by side assured that the guarantees of our Constitution are applied to everyone equally and fairly. While some find the idea that America is a Christian theocracy rhetorically appealing, history shows that this is untenable in a pluralistic democracy and not in keeping with the ideals of the U.S. Constitution and the principle of separation of church and state.

As an African American Christian pastor, I cannot stand on the side of those who would attempt to justify legalized discrimination under the guise of religious belief. The denial of rights to some based upon religious belief sets the precedent for the denial of rights to others based upon religious belief as well, and that would be a very dangerous public policy precedent to establish in America. As a Christian in America, I believe that my charge is to live in my faith, not to legislate it, and as long as the state does not seek to regulate the church, the church should not seek to regulate the state.

I urge Marylanders to vote for Question 6 because it does not force any religious institution or clergy person to acknowledge, affirm, or perform same-sex marriages if it is against their religious practices and beliefs. Marriage equality is about preserving the integrity of our democracy. As a nation, we cannot spend billions of dollars to export freedom abroad, and then enact laws that deny freedom to fellow Americans here at home. That is not right. We cannot have one set of laws for some, and another set of laws for others. That is not right.

Whatever happens in Maryland on Tuesday, and I am hopeful Question 6 will pass, this issue has caused and will cause more people of faith to re-examine the theological presuppositions they assume condemn gays and lesbians. As an evangelical pastor and a New Testament scholar, my reading of the Bible suggests that what is being condemned in the Christian scriptures (the Old and New Testaments) are acts of same-sex violence, abuse, and exploitation, not consensual same gender relationships. Unfortunately, this is often obscured in many of the English transliterations of the Bible that most Christians read, but a careful reading of the Bible in Hebrew and Greek suggests that what we have assumed the Bible condemns, perhaps it does not. That then, should provide the impetus to extend the Bible’s mandate to welcome and show radical love to all people, even gays and lesbians seeking to live out their faith and be true to who they are. While the issue of marriage equality will challenge people of faith in the short term, in the end I believe it will help our nation and our houses of worship become a beloved community for all people.

The Rev. Dr. Delman Coates is the senior pastor of the Mount Ennon Baptist Church, a congregation of 8,000 members in Clinton, Md.

  • dcofer

    The liberals sure have gotten the plantationn mentality in place over blacks. They have convinced them homosexuality and gambling are good for their community. If this casino is built a study conducted by the state and never released say 60,000 will become problem gamblers

  • jay2drummer

    If we’re banning casinos because some people can’t control their habit, then maybe we should start banning bars because people will become problem drinkers. Or ban fast food because some people are fat. That’s about as silly as the money not going to the schools argument. As for homosexuals, they don’t harm anyone, and if they don’t harm society, there is not one single justification for continuing to treat them like second class citizens, other than bigotry.

  • Catken1

    How on earth would encouraging more marriages be bad for any community?

  • telemachus

    Although religion can inform folks view of marriage, the definition of civil marriage has little to do with religion.

    The civil definition is determined by the state’s interest in anyone’s intimate romantic relationship.

    The MD state supreme court has said that the state’s interest is in the procreative nature of opposite sex marriage.

    The court majority have said it is a rational and constitutional interest.

    The US Supreme Court has said the same thing in Loving v VA.

    If you agree with that vote NO on question 6.

    If you believe that the state’s interest goes beyond that, and should validate the romantic inclinations of any two consenting adults, then you should vote YES on question 6.

    However you vote, your conscience should be clear.

    Don’t ever let anyone convince you that you are a bigot, because you vote one way or another.

    It’ not true, and you are exercsising your franchise in a free election determined by the laws of the state of MD.

  • jay2drummer

    No matter how many times you make your bs argument that the point of marriage is procreation, it loses all validity so long as the following people can get married: fertile people, the elderly, or couples with no interest in having a kid. And no matter how many times you tell yourself it’s not true, any time you decide that certain people don’t deserve the same rights and protections as you without a single justification, you are 100% a bigot and a bad person.

  • Catken1

    So if you believe that you got married not because you love your spouse or wanted to build a life with them, but just because you thought they were fertile and wanted to make – not raise, not care for, not cherish together, just breed – babies with them, vote no on Question 6. If you think your marriage is no more than a stud arrangement, and you no more important to your spouse than a prize stallion or a brood mare, vote no on Question 6. If there is more human meaning to your marriage, and to your relationship with your spouse, than in the contract one farmer arranges with another to have his prize bull service her good milk cow, then vote yes.

    If you think that only babies bred by the parents who will raise them deserve security or legal protections for their families, vote no. If you think adopted kids, step-kids, orphaned kids taken in by relatives, kids produced by IVF or surrogacy, and yes, kids being raised by gay parents are also first-class kids who deserve all the benefits of married parents, and if you think we all have an interest in seeing those kids grow up in stable, secure families, vote yes.

    And if you think you have the privilege of entering into a civil contract with another consenting adult only because the State has extended you the privilege by its own gracious condescension, only to serve the State’s goal of getting more and more babies into an overpopulated world, then vote no. If you think you are a free American and entitled to enter into civil contracts as you see fit, vote yes.

  • dalailama420

    Religion, aided by the twin tyrannies of tradition and authority, has always stood opposed to progressive and just social change. Hopefully the bigots will be outnumbered at the ballot box and Maryland can take a step towards civility.

  • zackaryrasputin

    At the ballot box, I expect God’s followers will resist the trickery of Satan and vote down this measure that trashes marriage.

  • job22

    Thank you!

  • Catken1

    Ah, yes, because letting people you disapprove of marry “trashes marriage.” And letting people vote “trashes citizenship,” and letting people run businesses “trashes capitalism,” and black is white, and up is down.

    If the existence of gay married couples trashes your marriage, you aren’t taking enough personal responsibility for it.

  • dcofer

    By encouraging homosexual behavour we now have the highest rate in history of HIV infected teens since the NEA started there big push to accept this lifestyle. So my question if the behavour is good why are the ramifications of this practice so extreme?

  • dcofer

    And in 15 years the push will be men with boys just like the romans and next after that is the fall of our country but hey other than that I really could care less who marries who my only issue is the way we tell kids its an excepted practice lulling them in to a false sense of security.

  • Catken1

    Lesbians are less likely than straight women to get AIDS, Dcofer. Maybe we ought to stop accepting the heterosexual female lifestyle, and only allow the relatively safe lesbian marriages?

    And if you really cared about the spread of AIDS as anything other than an excuse to feel smugly superior to your neighbor, you might realize that monogamous and faithful behavior is a major means of preventing its spread. Therefore, perhaps we ought to be pushing marriage ESPECIALLY to those groups who are most vulnerable – that is, again, if you actually care about AIDS victims and potential AIDS victims, rather than about painting yourself as superior and “those others” as “dirty”.

    “And in 15 years the push will be men with boys just like the romans”

    Because you don’t have the moral sense to distinguish between a consenting adult relationship and the rape of a boy who cannot, by law, consent to either sex or legal relationships. Because you don’t have the judgment to understand why consent is far more vital to the morality of a sexual relationship than having the “traditional” arrangement of dangly bits. Because in your mind, the only reason we forbid rape is “tradition,” and if we get rid of “traditions” like restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples, there is no reason in your mind why rape would continue to be wrong.

    Moral imbeciles should not preen themselves on how superior they are to everyone else, honestly.

  • Catken1

    Naah. Humans are capable of enough cruelty- no need to bring some devil into the picture to blame for it.

  • Carstonio

    The Maryland court was wrong in talking about “the procreative nature of opposite-sex marriage.” First, same-sex marriage does nothing to hinder procreation in opposite-sex marriages. Second, that argument would justify denying marriage to infertile straight couples, or couples who simply choose not to procreate. Third, some gay couples do have children through a variety of methods, and the legal protections offered by marriage are just as important for those children. So procreation is useless to make a distinction between all same-sex and all opposite-sex couples – the only distinction is in the gender of the spouses.

  • Carstonio

    Catken, good point about consent. Defining sexual morality on any basis other than consent, on basic principles of help and harm, is not only horrifying but also incomprehensible. The most charitable reason that comes to mind is that such people define sexual morality according to purity instead.

  • jay2drummer

    No, actually, trying to prevent schools from teaching safe sex is what leads to the problem with HIV/AIDS/other STDs.

  • leibowde84

    And, who the hell is saying that homosexual behavior is “good.” It is their right to be happy. It shouldn’t matter what you think about it as a heterosexual person. You are a bigot, dcofer, and I’m pretty sure Jesus doesn’t like your kind.

  • dcrswm

    Well if you really want to get into it read the bible and count the number of people the devil killed vs. the number of people killed by god for not loving him/her/it enough….and only one of those jerks came out with a book to bad mouth the other one….

  • BeyondTheology

    Thank you, Pastor Coates, for so elequently expressing what is also my perspective on this issue at the ballot box. I hope that Maine and Maryland will be ‘”tied” as being the first states in the union to pass a marriage equality law at the voting booths!

  • itsthedax

    While I appreciate the people of Maryland choosing to do the right thing. This issue never should have come to a vote.

    Everyone in this country has the right to marry the person of his/her choice, and form a family. This is a basic part of being American. By making this a ballot issue, Maryland was saying that it would be OK to strip a civil right away from a minority, as along as a majority of voters said it was OK.

    We should always err on the side of protecting each other’s rights. Removing the rights of any fellow citizens should never even be considered.

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