Interfaith clergy coalition mobilized to promote same-sex marriage in nation’s capital.
History was made Friday, December 18, when Washington, D.C., mayor Adrian M. Fenty signed a bill in the sanctuary of All Souls Church, Unitarian, legalizing same-sex marriage in the District of Columbia. The law was approved by the D.C. City Council December 15.
The Rev. Robert Hardies, senior minister at All Souls, is co-chair of D.C. Clergy United for Marriage Equality, one of the groups instrumental in securing the law’s passage. “I applaud Mayor Fenty and the D.C. Council for standing on the side of love and ending discrimination against gay and lesbian Washingtonians,” he said in remarks during the signing ceremony.
In addition to Fenty and Hardies, D.C. city counselors Vincent Gray, Jim Graham, David Catania, and Phil Mendelson spoke. When Fenty finished signing the document, a crowd of several hundred erupted in cheers. Around 100 members of the All Souls congregation were among the crowd, according to Adam Gerhardstein of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Washington Office for Advocacy, including many supporters of the UUA’s Standing on the Side of Love public advocacy campaign.
The choice of All Souls for the signing was ideal, counselor Graham told the Washington Post. “It’s great that [the mayor’s] chosen one of the key churches in this struggle, rather, in this victory, in the most diverse ward in the city.”
Hardies credited strong multi-faith religious support as a key factor in the law’s passage. The Rev. Christine Y. Wiley and the Rev. Dennis W. Wiley, ministers of the predominantly African American Covenant Baptist Church, co-chair D.C. Clergy United with Hardies. “From the very beginning we built a multiracial, multicultural clergy group to support marriage equality,” Hardies told UU World, “so we could avoid some of the myths that are often told about marriage equality: that it pits black people against white people and people of faith against secular people.”
When the coalition sponsored a petition, called the “Declaration for Religious Support for Marriage Equality,” almost 200 D.C.-area clergy representing churches, synagogues, community groups, and divinity schools signed on. “We had more D.C. clergy supporting gay marriage than opposing it,” Hardies said. “That’s a powerful witness.”
D.C. Clergy United had an important foundation, Hardies said, in the pre-existing relationships that had been established among many of the coalition’s members. “When I, as a white gay UU minister, could call on a black straight Baptist colleague for support, we already had a relationship of solidarity and trust to draw upon,” he said. “It’s important for churches and ministers to work hard at building relationships of solidarity over time.”
The law’s signing is the culmination of an intentional campaign, Hardies said. After gaining supporters for the declaration, Hardies and Dennis Wiley co-authored an op-ed that appeared in the Washington Post on October 18. “Opponents of marriage equality would like us to believe that one cannot be both pro-God and pro-gay,” they wrote. “Yet, we lead a coalition of nearly 200 D.C. clergy who support marriage equality precisely because of our commitment to God’s inclusive love and justice.” On October 26, Hardies testified on behalf of the clergy coalition at a city council hearing on same-sex marriage.
The new law is not yet set in stone. All D.C. legislation is submitted to a thirty-day review period by Congress. Opponents, Hardies said, are filing for a referendum.
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Jane Greer is a former senior editor of UU World magazine.