Religious leaders helped secure marriage for gays and lesbians in D.C.
As same-sex couples continue to the the knot in the District of Columbia, the fact remains local religious leaders played a critical role in the effort to allow gays and lesbians to marry in the city.
The Rev. Robert Hardies, senior minister of All Souls Unitarian Church, worked alongside the Revs. Dennis and Christine Wiley, married co-pastors of Covenant Baptist Church, to organize a multiracial and multi-denominational coalition of faith in support of marriage for same-sex couples. With more than 200 clergy members, the alliance held press conferences and religious services in support of nuptials for gays and lesbians. Members also turned out en masse to testify for the bill. Hardies told EDGE he decided to form the coalition after California voters overturned Proposition 8.
"Prop 8 told us two things: One that we hadn’t done a good job organizing in religious communities-and two that there was a real divide between people of color and white folks," he said. "As a minister who pastors a multiracial congregation, both of those things broke my heart. I said to myself that night when this movement comes to D.C. we can’t have it turn out the same way."
In light of Prop 8, Hardies organized outreach efforts to the African Americans in the District. He said their support was critical in the passage of the marriage bill, and he hopes surrounding states will follow the coalition’s example.
"If we can’t build solidarity with the religious communities and the communities of color I think we will continue to struggle in isolation," Hardies told EDGE. "That’s really our responsibility I think-to come and reach out and do more of that work. I hope that what we’ve done in D.C. can be a model for other states that are seeking to pass same-sex marriage."
Michael Crawford, director of new media at Freedom to Marry and blogger for the Huffington Post and the Bilerico Project, has tracked the marriage movement on and offline. He told EDGE religious and underrepresented groups are crucial in passing marriage for gays and lesbians across the country, and they should not be disregarded on preconceived notions.
"As we’re thinking about upcoming marriage battles we shouldn’t write off people of color because of the conventional wisdom that people of color won’t support LGBT equality," Crawford said. "We need to be doing the work, making the contacts, having those conversations and really focus on building support from our communities of color and our communities of faith so that we can win marriage as quickly as possible."
With Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler’s opinion to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed out-of-state, gay and lesbian couples who are state employees are now eligible to receive the same benefits as straight married couples. Crawford believes if the Free State does not follow the District’s example, however, the LGBT population may begin to dwindle.
"What I do know is that I’ve talked to several couples who are currently living in Maryland who are moving to the district in order to be able to marry," Crawford told EDGE. "Hopefully, the legislators in Maryland will start to realize that they are going to lose a lot of good people in the state because those people want to be able to marry."
Hardies wed his first same-sex couple, Terrance Heath and Richard Imirowicz, on Tuesday, March 8, the same day gays and lesbians could begin to legally marry in the city. His calendar is already booked with couples from surrounding states who are eager to finally exchange vows. While he is unsure whether he and his partner Chris will walk down the aisle in the near future, he told EDGE he is honored to marry same-sex couples that have been members of his congregation for years.
"As a pastor of a church of both straight folks and gay folks, I wanted all of the couples that I was uniting in loving relationships to have the same protections and rights," Hardies said. "I believe strongly that God is love and that God’s greatest gift to us is love. As a clergy person my job is to support, strengthen and bless love wherever it’s found. I feel strong in my religious conviction in support of marriage equality. I don’t find it hypocritical to my religious beliefs at all."