Leading Opponent Of Same-Sex Marriage Reacts To Developments In D.C.

Washington, D.C. became the sixth jurisdiction in the United States to legalize same-sex marriage. Host Michel Martin speaks with Bishop Harry Jackson, senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in the Washington, D.C. area, for more on the decision. Bishop Jackson has been one of the area’s most outspoken critics of gay marriage.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

Im Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, as we look ahead to the Oscars, we conclude our series about Divas on Screen, black women whove made their mark in Hollywood. Today, were looking at Oscar-winner Halle Berry.

But first, its time for our weekly Faith Matters conversation. Thats where we talk about matters of faith and spirituality. So its not surprising that we want to turn to an issue that for many is a test of faith: same-sex marriage. This week, Washington, D.C. became the sixth jurisdiction in the U.S. to legalize same-sex marriage. And there was, of course, the added symbolic importance of this event, taking place in the nations capital.

Dozens of same-sex couples lined up beginning early Wednesday to apply for marriage licenses. It was a day of celebration for many people, including a couple we met, Angelisa Young and Sinjoyla Townsend, who were first in line. And they are planning to be married in Tuesday. But not everyone, of course, is celebrating.

Im joined now by Bishop Harry Jackson, Jr., senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in the Washington, D.C. area. He was involved in legal efforts to invalidate Californias marriage law. And he was among those who requested that the U.S. Supreme Court issue a stay to keep the D.C. law from going into effect until D.C. residents are given an opportunity to vote on it. Chief Justice John Roberts turned down that request. We reached Bishop Jackson in Dallas, Texas, where he's speaking at Convergence. Thats a gathering of prominent evangelical ministers. Welcome. Thank you for joining us again.

Bishop HARRY JACKSON, Jr. (Senior Pastor, Hope Christian Church, Washington, D.C.): Glad to be with you, Michel. Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: So, Bishop, how did you feel when you realized that the court was not going to stop the law from going into effect and that couples were, in fact, going out and getting their licenses and preparing to take the next step? How did you feel?

Bishop JACKSON: Well, first, I felt surprised that the court even took the case. I was very thankful that they reviewed it, that the chief justice himself actually looked at it. But then I was surprised that given the problems in California where all these people were married and then they had the vote, then everything gets invalidated - I think its unfair if it ultimately winds up that we turn this around, that folks will be in a quandary.

MARTIN: I am going to ask you about those, sort of, the next steps that you and your supporters are taking legally and politically to stop this from going forward. But first, I did want to ask you, how are you addressing this spiritually and theologically? How are you understanding these developments? And the reason I ask is that, you know, the polls show that opposition to same-sex relationships is softening in many ways, as, you know, Mexico City this week also legalized same-sex marriage that, I think, the country is moving to allow gay men and women to serve openly in the military. So it does seem as though the tide is moving in a different direction. So I'm wondering how youre experiencing this. How are you thinking about this spiritually and theologically?

Bishop JACKSON: Wow. That's a very profound question. You always bring forward the profound issues. I believe its like a pincer movement. Imagine two sides clamping on something. One is we must promote marriage. The other issue is that we must prevent its redefinition. And, Michel, I believe that teen suicides, gang problems, poverty at some level, dropout levels in our public schools, all have to do with the breakdown of the family. So, as a theologian, a minister and a minister of ministers, I must do the intervention to protect marriage as an institution and help individual people. And my concern about the redefinition is just one side of these two-sided affect.

And so as the laws had changed in D.C., we obviously abide by the laws. And folks were asking, saying, well, why werent you down there, you know, rallying against those people? Weren't you upset? And we have never picketed. We have never, Michel, come out and tried to attack. Weve simply tried to defend the institution. So, we want folks to be able to do whats legal, whats right. And then were going to redouble our efforts to make sure that the 50 percent of the marriages in the church that fail could be strengthened and peoples marriage can be healed. But I think its a travesty. Im outraged that the people have been ignored in the ultimate civil right of the vote. Walter Fauntroy is on our team of people who signed on with us. He says thats the greatest tragedy, that the people have been denied that fundamental civil right.

MARTIN: They - the people who we have spoken to, as I mentioned, that there was the first couple in line to seek a marriage license would say that they are a family, that they are raising children. They've been together for many years...

Bishop JACKSON: Mm-hmm, right.

MARTIN: ...more than a decade, that they are a family and that they are merely seeking the protection and respect of the rest of the society to recognize their family. What would you say to that?

Bishop JACKSON: Well, I'd say to them that there's a difference between changing an institution - many people say its a civil right. But in the past, when we'd quote black-white marriage relationships, really, they didnt change the fundamental definition of the institution, which most people say is at least 5,000 or more years old and no society has ever changed this particular dimension of family and survived. So I would say it's really not about you. You can be with your mate. You can be with your intended, your loved one. Its not about that. Its about what happens to this institution and how all of our childrens children, children, what goes on in that institution and how it changes.

MARTIN: And finally - we have about a minute and a half left. You indicated that your - the legal challenge is continuing, if you could tell us a little bit more about that, as I understand it, that the case is now before the D.C. Court of Appeals and the question is whether D.C. residents should be allowed to vote in referendum.

Bishop JACKSON: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: The current thinking has been that - well, the law says apparently that you cant afford on something that would be a violation of human rights. Let me take it a step forward...

Bishop JACKSON: Thats an interpretation, but that's not...

MARTIN: I understand, but let's say a referendum does go forward and the voters still uphold same-sex marriage. What then?

Bishop JACKSON: Then you just have to let it lay. I believe that we dont want this to become a national epidemic, if you will, as you alluded to earlier. But I think, ultimately, in this generation, as a follower of Christ, it is for me to be faithful to my beliefs to exercise the democratic process - which, ironically, you talked about earlier with the folks and their effort to vote in Iran - or Iraq, rather. And I think it's very, very significant that way. But I think Ill go back to the other side of the pincer movement. Were going to promote marriage here at Convergence. Were going to talk a little bit about marriage. Most of what were going to say is not going to be anti, but is going to promote what we need to promote in our culture.

MARTIN: All right. Bishop Harry Jackson, Jr., a senior pastor of Hope Christian Church. Thats in the Washington, D.C. area, but we reached him in Dallas, where he is attending, as he said, Convergence. Thats a gathering of evangelical leaders like himself. And we thank you once again for speaking with us.

Bishop JACKSON: Thank you, Michel. Good to be with you.

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