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Gentrification, gay marriage, and the gospel

"Gentrification, gay marriage, and the gospel" Continued...

Issue: "Hurtling toward havoc," Aug. 1, 2009

But the marginalization of conservative church leaders and churchgoing voters let city politicians off the hook, to the point that they have largely ignored Jackson and his allies.

"Many of our churches have moved to the suburbs. Politics in the city is a much more community-based affair," said Peter Rosenstein, who has been an activist for same-sex marriage for the last 30 years. He believes politicians no longer see ministers as intermediaries to voters as they once did.

Patrick Walker, pastor of New Macedonia Baptist, feels betrayed by politicians his church helped. From Walker's church in 2006, the chair of the city council, Vincent Gray, launched his bid for the chairmanship, and has voted for the same-sex measure. Gray, an African-American, represents an overwhelmingly black ward.

"It shocked me," Walker told me. "This is a traditional African-American family issue."

Some of the jilted pastors are trying to attract the respect of their elected officials again. Walker's church started a $50,000 scholarship program and invited Councilman Harry Thomas to present the keynote. Walker said Thomas never showed up, displaying what Walker sees as "a blatant disregard for the African-American church."

At the same time, gay activists have canvassed city government for the last 20 years, making the legalization of gay marriage a platform issue. The Gertrude Stein Club donated to the campaigns of seven of the current city council members as well as to Mayor Adrian Fenty (though in nominal amounts of $500). The National Stonewall Democrats and the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund also pitched in with contributions.

President Barack Obama has been silent on the capital's policy on gay marriage, though he supports a repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and woman.

The council has two members who are openly gay: Jim Graham and David Catania. Catania was a lifelong Republican until 2004 when he left the party over former President Bush's appeal for a constitutional ban on gay marriage. He had raised over $50,000 for the Bush campaign. Moving forward with legislation to legalize same-sex marriage, Catania has promised that the legislation will include freedoms for district churches to choose whether or not to perform same-sex marriages.

Local leaders aren't the only ones with a say in the issue. In Washington, all of the council's laws are subject to congressional review. Socially conservative lawmakers, Republicans and a handful of Democrats, have introduced several measures in Congress either to define marriage in the district or simply disapprove the council's actions. But the scattershot efforts haven't gone anywhere with a Democratic majority in Congress.

While same-sex marriage proponents complain that the congressional lawmakers are interfering in local politics, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, told me, "We feel like we're assisting the local leaders." Jordan said that he would have supported a referendum in the city. "When the people decide this issue, the people always get it right."

Rough polling shows that a referendum, if it happened today, could go either way. "I believe there's still a strong support base," said Jackson. "Unity of church leaders-that's our challenge." Jackson and other pastors are going ward by ward to meet with churchgoers. Despite the momentum gay activists have for a further measure legalizing same-sex marriage, Jackson thinks his coalition has a chance. "We're going to need all hands on deck," Jackson said. "We need to organize secular people who believe the council and Mayor Fenty have too much power. There's a grassroots unrest. This could be the beginning of turning things around."

Emily Belz
Emily Belz

Emily, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emzleb.

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