More than 40 clergy members gathered at a Bolton Hill church yesterday to support gay marriage and the same-sex couples who are suing to win the right to marry in Maryland.
The ministers at Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church said they hope to counter a widespread perception that all Christian clergy oppose gay marriage. An Annapolis rally organized by opponents of same-sex marriage, widely covered by the news media, attracted about 1,000 people last month.
"There's been a steady growth of some voices expressing opposition to equality of access to marriage, and it leaves the inaccurate perception that they are speaking for all of us - and they're not," said the Rev. Donald E. Stroud, the Presbyterian minister who organized the event.
Stroud said that 71 ministers have signed a petition - enlarged and displayed for television cameras yesterday - calling for equal access to marriage for same-sex couples. "We believe that both heterosexual and homosexual relations are capable of being sinful and of being faithful," the petition states.
The ministers formed a choir-like tableau in the front of the church as speakers stressed the need for extending to gay couples the same rights enjoyed by heterosexuals.
"The church needs great leaders who aren't afraid to say, prophetically, that God welcomes everybody," said the Rev. Donna Martin, a United Methodist minister and hospice chaplain from Columbia.
A national dispute over same-sex marriage arose in 2003, when the Massachusetts Supreme Court recognized gay marriages. The issue galvanized conservative Christians, and 11 states approved constitutional amendments banning gay marriage in November's elections.
A 32-year-old Maryland law defines marriage strictly as a union between a man and a woman, but a suit filed in Baltimore Circuit Court in July seeks to overturn that statute on constitutional grounds.
The General Assembly is not considered likely to approve a constitutional amendment this year.