A coalition of black pastors have condemned gay marriage, saying it's incorrect to compare the fight for equal marriage rights to the civil rights movement.
The Christian, conservative Thomas More Law Center filed an amicus brief in Michigan's gay marriage trial Wednesday on behalf of 110 black pastors from Detroit, elsewhere in Michigan, and Ohio. The state's ban on gay marriage was overturned in March by U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman, but the ruling was put on hold as the case is considered by the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.
In the brief, the coalition calls for a reversal of Friedman's decision. They argue that the marriage equality movement is inaccurately equated with the civil rights struggle, and that such comparison ignores the acute suffering of blacks throughout American history.
"The fact that American media or other factions erroneously characterize the traditional meaning of 'marriage' as being on par with the civil rights deprivations of Black Americans does not make it so," the brief states. "Comparing the dilemmas of same-sex couples to the centuries of discrimination faced by Black Americans is a distortion of our country’s cultural and legal history."
Observers have pointed out that several arguments used against gay marriage in the present day echo those used against interracial marriage in the 1960s, particularly that it could be harmful to children. In their brief, the pastors address the civil rights victory of Loving v. Virginia, the 1967 case in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down laws restricting interracial marriage, but say it doesn't legally extend equal access to marriage for LGBT individuals.
The brief goes on to argue that it is false to equate sexuality and race, because the former is not an "immutable" characteristic.
"A person’s sexuality and sexual preferences, however, are not their state of being, or even an immutable aspect of who they are, as race is," it reads. "The truth of the matter is that it is merely activity in which they engage. The state has no responsibility to promote any person’s sexual proclivities, whether heterosexual, homosexual, or otherwise."
A group of the pastors addressed their legal challenge Wednesday at a rally at the First Baptist World Changers International Church in Detroit. Rev. Stacey Swimp of Flint said gay marriage would “destroy the backbone of our society," according to the Detroit Free Press. Another pastor said religious leaders who support homosexuality are "the enemy of God."
In their brief, they cite states' ability to restrict polygamy and incest as reasons why they should also be allowed to ban gay marriage:
All states routinely require certain qualifications to obtain a marriage license and disallow certain individuals who do not meet those qualifications. States discriminate against first cousins, for example, by not allowing them to marry. States discriminate against bigamists, polygamists, and polyamorists in the licensing of marriage, and it is within the states’ right to do so.
Both the Michigan Catholic Conference and a national group representing religious leaders also filed briefs Wednesday that support reinstating the ban on gay marriage, which was passed in 2004 when 59 percent of Michigan voters approved a proposal defining marriage as between one man and one woman.
In the decade since, support for gay marriage has grown in the state and nationwide. A Pew Research Center survey conducted in February found that support for gay marriage has increased in the last several years among certain Christian groups, including black Protestants, where support is at 43 percent, up from 32 percent in 2013. Fifty-nine percent of Catholics surveyed also favor gay marriage.
A survey conducted by Michigan State University earlier this year found that 47 percent of black Michigan residents support gay marriage, up from 31 percent in 2012.
The challenge to Michigan's law began in 2012, when lesbian couple Jayne Rowse and April DeBoer sued to jointly adopt their children. Friedman instead invited them to challenge the constitutionality of the gay marriage ban.