African-American faith leaders call for marriage equality in Illinois


Prominent faith leaders requested immediate equal protection to all Illinoisans with the introduction of a new act redefining marriage in a press conference today. Many members of the African-American Clergy urged passage of the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act for equal benefits and protections under the law for all marriages.

Collectively, the 13 clergy leaders included said, “we should treat all families with equality and respect and the Illinois legislature should act now.” Also present were gay and lesbian parents who are raising children in devoted families. 

“The bill would allow all couples regardless of orientation the right to marry and ensure religious freedom to perform them,” Equality Illinois’ Director of Public Policy Randy Hannig told 429Magazine. “Any couple would be able to go to the county clerk and choose their affirming officiate.” 

If approved by the Illinois General Assembly, terms like spouse, next of kin, dependent, wife, husband, bride, groom, wedlock and other terms referring to spousal relationship will be included regardless if the parties have same-sex or different-sex marriages.

“Our representatives in the House will be deciding whether loving gay and lesbian couples get a marriage license down at the courthouse – not a church,” St. Edmund’s Episcopal Church’s Rev. Dr. Richard Tolliver said at the news conference. 

“While there is a diversity of theology on the boundaries of religious marriage, this is about civil marriage. We are more than a one-issue community, and we represent many different religious views, but we can all recognize the fundamental value of the law of the land applying equally to all citizens.”

Progressive Community Center’s Rev. Dr. B. Herbert Martin also spoke out in support of the act during the news conference.

“My life teaches me that discrimination is dead wrong, no matter whom it may target. Gay and lesbian couples believe in family and commitment and this legislation is about equal treatment under the law,” said Martin.  “This is a continuation of the civil rights I have worked for all of my life.  It is the right thing to do and in keeping with my faith.”

Pillar of Love Fellowship Church’s Rev. Phyllis Pennese, Bishop Carlton Pearson, St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church Rev. Booker Vance and Neighborhood United Methodist Church’s Rev. Jacques Conway joined Tolliver and Martin.

“This is a teaching moment for all our children and for our country,” Conway said during the news conference. “We must stress that we are all created equal.  If we don’t stress that, then there will be discrimination based on personal opinion. We must treat everyone with respect and equality.”

The gathering of faith leaders signified unity amongst the different beliefs. 

“It is important that people of faith come together and be thankful for this legislation.  It stands to ensure that all people have equal protection under the law,” said St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church Rev. Booker Vance.  “We will keep on fighting until the work is done.”

Bishop Pearson added that he embraced the act and encourages legislators to pass the bill, as it’s a win-win situation. 

“This law does not infringe on my rights to preach or to marry anyone in my church. Everyone has the right to a committed and legal marriage,” said Pearson. 

If approved, it would amend the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act and the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act.

“I am a sister, aunt and grandmother devoted to God and I support this legislation,” said Pennese during the conference.  “People are changing their minds and I know marriage equality is the next step in what’s necessary for human rights and justice.  Thank god for how far we’ve come.”

Critics against the act argued that there is a division amongst the LGBT and the African American community. But according to a 2012 Public Policy Poll, it indicated that 60 percent of African Americans support marriage equality. 

“The numbers of opponents say the African-American community does not support marriage equality but that’s simply not true, as is shown by polling numbers in the high 50s or lowers 60s,” said Hannig. “Today’s news conference helps contradict our opponents’ message and further underscores our desire to be treated with equity and respect.”

The passage of the act was discussed in January but did not pass.

Marriage equality was paralleled with the Civil Rights Movement in an open letter filed in January by the group of Illinois’ faith leaders. 

“We remember that, not long ago, some states defined marriage as limited to people of the same race,” read the letter. “We were told marriage between people of different races was ‘unnatural’ and that society would be eroded if marriage changed. The truth is, marriage has evolved throughout history to reflect the needs and progress of society.”

Tolliver spoke about the evolution, as Obama became the first sit-in president to endorse marriage equality at the General Assembly in January.

“The black community, as statistics have shown, like the white community, has evolved on this issue,” said Tolliver. “Since President Obama came out in favor of marriage equality, the percentage of support for this issue in the African-American community has accelerated significantly.”

In 1988, African American religious leaders protested the city’s gay rights ordinance. The opposition is mixed for 2013.

“There is no more opposition in Illinois than in any other state,” said Hannig. “They actively recruit on their mailing list and that’s what we’re up against. Voting to give all couples the right to marry is the right thing to do and will happen in due time.”

The work for marriage equality still faces a long road, but Human Rights Campaign’s Deputy Director of Religion and Faith Programs, Rev. Macarthur Flournoy, believes “Illinois will be the first state in 2013 to recognize marriage equality.”

“We are working with our coalition partners to do visits to our representatives,” said Floumoy at the news conference. “There is a diversity of perspectives, but there is growing consensus that this bill will pass.”


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