Darlene Garner and Candy Holmes, both reverends of Metropolitan Community Churches, exchanged a kiss during their wedding ceremony on the first day same-sex couples were allowed to legally wed in Washington, D.C., March 9, 2010.
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My journey toward being an unapologetic supporter of marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples began in the fall of 2011 when I requested a meeting with a lesbian couple who had joined our church. I noticed they had joined on separate Sundays so as to appear not to be together, and I wanted to extend myself so they would know that I welcomed them as their pastor. 

This was a unique opportunity for me. While I have always known people who were gay, I never had an intimate conversation about their life, their hopes and their dreams. It was always a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” kind of situation. This was an opportunity for me to get to know a gay couple as people, not as a category for debate. During our three-hour meeting, I had the privilege of learning about their family, their spiritual journey in the church and their love and commitment for one another. 

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Afterward, I found myself dwelling on a passing reference shared in the meeting that one spouse and her child were not eligible to be covered on the working spouse’s medical plan because of the laws in our state. I could not get over the fact that I enjoyed rights and benefits that they did not enjoy because they were same-gender loving. I was burdened by the thought that as a nation we were spending billions of dollars to supposedly export democracy abroad, and yet, we were denying gay and lesbian Americans basic freedoms and liberties right here at home.

I also found arguments against marriage equality from those within the church wanting and decidedly inconsistent. If opponents of same-sex marriage were so interested in defending marriage, family and their view of the Bible, why were they not in favor of denying equal treatment under the law to those who commit adultery, have been divorced or have children out of wedlock? 

Why ignore biblical passages that talk about gluttony, eating pork, shellfish, etc.? Seeking to legislate certain passages of the Bible and not others seemed to be a huge contradiction, and this inconsistency felt more like a defense of religious bias than religious belief. I grew increasingly disturbed that those in the black church so vocal in their opposition to matters of personal morality seemed noticeably silent on matters of public morality; issues like poverty, criminal-justice reform, banking reform and the range of other social-justice issues confronting black America.

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I determined then that on the question of marriage equality I did not want my silence to be interpreted as consent. Since justice is indivisible, I could not stand by while some sought to justify legalized discrimination under the guise of religious belief. What I value as a Christian in America is that we have freedom of and from religion, and I regard the principle of the separation of church and state as an important feature of our democracy. As a person of faith, I aim to live in my faith, not to legislate it. Marriage equality for me is primarily a public policy issue, not a theological one. 

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. As a matter of justice and fairness, the state has an obligation to provide legal protection for all its citizens. 

For those who believe in the authority of Scripture, as I do, the marriage-equality debate also provides a wonderful opportunity to re-examine the biblical texts often cited as condemnations of homosexuality. Upon a careful and closer examination of these texts in their original languages, it becomes clear that these oft-quoted texts are condemnations of sexual violence, rape, abuse and exploitation, not consensual same-gender relationships. 

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That, then, should cause Christians to reassess the claims made about the Bible and homosexuality, and provide the impetus for envisioning a more inclusive church, one where gays and lesbians seeking to live out their faith and be true to who they are can be welcomed in God’s house and shown God’s love.

The legalization of same-sex marriage by the Supreme Court is, in my estimation, an important step in moving our nation toward becoming “a more perfect union,” and I hope it will help houses of worship engage in introspection as we endeavor to truly become a beloved community for all people.

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. Let us endeavor to be a society where all people can live side by side, assured that the guarantees of our Constitution are applied to everyone equally and fairly. 

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The Root aims to foster and advance conversations about issues relevant to the black Diaspora by presenting a variety of opinions from all perspectives, whether or not those opinions are shared by our editorial staff.

The Rev. Delman Coates is senior pastor of Mount Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, Md., and president of the Black Church Center for Justice and Equality. Follow him on Twitter.