Rallying Against Equality

Marion Barry joins religious protest against gay ''immorality'' at Freedom Plaza

by Yusef Najafi
Published on April 30, 2009, 12:00am | Comments

''There are a lot of issues that we agree on, there are some that we don't agree on, but...we have to say no to same-sex marriage in D.C.,'' former D.C. mayor and current Councilmember Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) told an energized crowd of about 150 assembled on Freedom Plaza, in front of the John A. Wilson Building, during a rally against marriage equality held Tuesday morning, April 28. Barry then offered an invitation to the crowd to "pack the City Council chambers'' on Tuesday, May 5, for the Council's monthly legislative meeting. ''You can't just talk about it, brother,'' he said. ''You have to work for it. You've got to go across the street and walk the halls of the City Council, confront all 12 of [the councilmembers], eye to eye, morality against immorality.''

It was a puzzling sight for those aware of Barry's history of supporting the gay community, including a promise to back marriage-equality legislation, delivered during a summer 2008 Gertrude Stein Democratic Club meeting.

Paquita Wiggins, founder of the new Maryland Stonewall Democrats, said she was ''shocked'' by Barry's statements.

''I was really upset because I was also at the meeting last summer when he talked about how he endorsed gay marriage and how he's been at the forefront of making sure that we have rights and gay marriage in D.C.,'' Wiggins said. ''The Stein club endorsed him for that.... The 'moral' versus 'immorality' thing, that was killer.''

More confusing was that Barry was recorded as a co-introducer of the legislation he was urging gatherers to oppose. That amendment, brought by Councilmember Phil Mendelson (D-At large) and written to recognize legal marriages from other jurisdictions, including those between members of the same sex, cleared the Council April 7 in a 12-0 vote. Barry was absent when the vote occurred.

Barry told the crowd that he was not present on April 7 when the City Council voted to approve the first reading of that amendment, as well as the final reading of the Domestic Partnership Judicial Determination of Parentage Act of 2009. The second bill, on its second reading April 7, recognizes domestic partnerships and similar unions from other jurisdictions as equivalent to D.C. domestic partnerships and also passed 12-0.

''I was probably recovering from my transplant. I was not present. If I had been, I would have voted no,'' he said, generating applause among the crowd.

After the rally, City Council Chairman Vincent Gray's office confirmed that Barry had signed onto the marriage amendment as a co-introducer. Barry did not return a request for comment before Metro Weekly deadline and when asked to clarify the discrepancy as he left the rally, he said, ''I didn't sign nothing.''

Bishop Harry Jackson identified himself to the crowd as part of the Missionary Baptist Ministers' Conference of Washington D.C. and Vicinity, organizer of Tuesday's rally. Jackson is also one the country's foremost African-American clergy opposing marriage equality, senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Md., and founder of the College Park-based High Impact Leadership Coalition.

''Today we are being radical,'' Jackson said in his rally speech. ''Radical means we are returning to the roots, and the word of God.... This is not about hating anybody.... This is about loving Jesus.

''This is not about gay rights. There's a difference between civil rights and sacred rights. I want you to understand that marriage has been defined by God, and everybody in America does not have an equal civil right to get married. Two close relatives do not have a right to get married because it's not good for the culture; a man cannot marry a 3-year-old because it's not good for the culture. "You with me?''

''Yes!'' the crowd replied.

Pastor George C. Gilbert Sr. of the Holy Trinity United Baptist Church in Northeast said it's time to respond to the ''precious heterosexual ethic in our religion, society and culture'' that has come under attack by gay people. He told the crowd that ''homosexual activists'' are attempting to destroy ''biblical values and moral standards.''

''We know that one's race, religion and national origin are all protected under the Constitution," Gilbert said, "but the homosexuals want to have their sexual choices protected, as if being gay was the same as being black. This is untrue, and it's very offensive.''

A small group of marriage-equality advocates also gathered on Freedom Plaza Tuesday morning. Aside from Wiggins, they included Jeffrey Richardson, president of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club; Mark Levine; Richard Rosendall, vice president of political affairs for the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance; Rabbi Robert Saks; Bob Summersgill; Peter Rosenstein and representatives from both the Human Rights Campaign and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

Saks, who is straight, has served for 18 years as rabbi to Bet Mishpachah, the local GLBT congregation. He handed out a three-page explanation of his interpretation of Sodom in the Book of Genesis, debunking claims that the story is anti-gay, not shirking from heated discussion with rally participants.

Also not shirking was Rosendall, who said, "Shame on you, Marion," as Barry passed him. The councilmember replied, "I support you on everything else."

But Rosendall got the last word, saying, "You talk out of both sides or your mouth. Shame on you."