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Same-sex marriage is about equality, not religion

O.C. Allen, Special to CNN
  • O.C. Allen says he is a product of "The Black Church," which helped shape him into a pastor
  • When he announced he was gay, he found that God's love and the church's love can differ
  • He and partner married; he says he realized marriage about right to equal benefits under law
  • Allen: Gay and heterosexual couples must see their commonality

Editor's note: Bishop-elect O.C. Allen III is senior pastor of The Vision Church of Atlanta, and founder of The United Progressive Pentecostal Church Fellowship, an alliance of faith leaders and churches. He shares his thoughts on why marriage matters in the "The Black Pulpit," a weekly series of opinion pieces that explores faith in the black community. Next week: A view from a Buddhist female priest. CNN's "Black in America: Churched" premieres October 14.

(CNN) -- I am a product of the "The Black Church." It shaped me into who I am today: a Christian pastor aware of God's amazing grace and love.

When I announced I was gay, the church limited that grace and love. Although I had no doubt that God loved me, I discovered that God's love and the church's love can be two different things.

To be Christian is to be inclusive of people who love one another. This is why I support same-sex marriage.

As a pastor, I have counseled countless heterosexual and homosexual couples, and have observed that no matter the race, background or sexual orientation of the couple, a healthy relationship requires commitment, genuine respect and mutual love.

Though my partner and I had a commitment ceremony in 2003, and obtained a marriage license this past July in Washington D.C., we learned that marriage is more than our religious convictions and our commitment, but also about laws that will protect us.

Marriage equality is not about religious rights, but the right to equal benefits. At the end of 2003, the U.S. Government Accountability Office identified 1,138 federal provisions where marital status is a factor in determining or receiving benefits, rights and privileges.

These include next-of-kin hospital visits and medical decisions where one partner is too ill to be competent; automatic inheritance in the absence of a will and inheritance of jointly owned real and personal property through the right of survivorship. These benefits allow all marriages access to the social and emotional supports that can produce healthy families and communities.

I affirm the role of religion in our society. But no matter how powerful religion is, in the United States, the laws of the church and the laws of the government are intentionally separate.

Another view from the pulpit: Same-sex marriages will hurt families

In 1968, 73 percent of Americans disapproved of marriage between blacks and whites. Then, it was argued that interracial marriage would hurt families and dismantle societal structures. In 1967, the Supreme court ended race-based restrictions on marriage in Loving vs. Virginia.

Today, support of interracial marriage is stronger than it has ever been. So is support of same-sex marriage. Like interracial couples, gay couples are seeking equality under the law, asking their government for these rights, not individuals, or religious bodies.

If same-sex marriage is about love and religion is about love, then in this debate, love must go both ways. We must not be hateful in our disagreements over marriage. Verbal and emotional abuse should have no place in our sacred places of worship. The pulpit should not be used as a place of abuse even if one disagrees with same-sex marriage.

Jesus never mentioned homosexuality in his 33 years of life. But in Mark 12:31, he did emphasize, "...thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these." The apostle Paul said: "Be kindly affectionate one to another with brotherly love; in honor preferring one another." I wonder what the debate over same-sex-marriage would be like if we applied this basic scripture?

True equality can begin when we see others as we see ourselves. I believe there is room to disagree, but just because we don't agree on my legal rights does not mean I am not entitled to them.

The gay community must also learn how to love those who disagree with them. If heterosexual couples and gay couples could see their commonality, equality would not just be the law of the land, but it could be a new law for humanity that governs our fragile future.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of O.C. Allen.