BRONZEVILLE — As state lawmakers prepare for a vote on legalizing gay marriage in Illinois, a group of prominent South Side religious leaders are speaking out on both sides of the issue.
On Wednesday, the Rev. Bernard Jakes, pastor of West Point Missionary Baptist Church in Bronzeville, came out in support of same-sex marriage.
"The Bible speaks against a lot of things, and I am not saying what the Bible says is not true," Jakes said, responding to some critics of gay marriage. "But what I am saying is that same-sex marriage is a civil rights issue, and that is why I support it."
Jakes, who heads up an 800-member congregation at 3566 S. Cottage Grove Ave., wrote about his decision to support same-sex marriage in a Chicago Baptist newsletter this month.
Last month, the state Senate approved a bill that would allow same-sex marriage in Illinois, and its sponsor in the Illinois House, Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), expects it to come to a vote soon. Gov. Pat Quinn said he would sign it into law if it reaches his desk.
Despite his support for gay marriage, Jakes stands by other Baptist churches when it comes to performing gay marriages in his church.
"Regardless what my views are about marriage, I have members who do not agree with me, and as a leader in the church I have to adhere to their concerns," added Jakes. "For that reason, I would not marry a same-sex couple at West Point."
Jakes is not the only prominent African-American church leader to support marriage equality. Otis Moss III, pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ, went to Springfield last month and spoke before the House Executive Committee in support of gay marriage.
"Gay people have never been the enemy, and when we use rhetoric to suggest they are the source of all our problems, we lie on God and cause tears to fall from the eyes of Christ," said Moss, who oversees a 2,500-member congregation.
However, not all black pastors on the South Side support same-sex marriages.
"Men should not be marrying men, and women should not be marrying women," said the outspoken Rev. James Meeks, pastor of Salem Baptist Church. "God does not support homosexuality, and neither do I."
The former state senator said on Wednesday he sent out 90,000 robocalls urging residents to contact their state representatives and urge them to vote against the gay marriage bill. Wednesday's calls were on top of 200,000 robocalls made earlier this week. Other groups also have been placing these calls in the Chicago suburbs and Downstate.
Maizelle Archie lives in south-suburban Flossmoor and received one of those prerecorded calls from Meeks.
"I was disturbed by his call. Who is he to tell someone what they should do with their life?" said the 72-year-old widow, and a 30-year member at The Life Center Church of God in Christ, which has 1,200 members. "I am not opposed to same-sex marriages. I believe to each his own."
Oscar Ross, who lives in South Shore and attends Sweet Holy Spirit Church said he agrees with Meeks and the Bible on the issue of gay marriage.
"I am against it," said the 48-year-old factory worker. "Two men or two women trying to reproduce with each other by having sex is not natural and should not be happening. And what about the kids? It is unhealthy for kids, especially boys, to be raised by same-sex couples. Boys would grow up confused and thinking it's OK for two guys to sleep in the bed together."
Jakes said the issue goes beyond the Bible and one's views on what is natural — it boils down to civil rights and fairness.
"We live in a world that is dictated by laws, and if we are going to be a justice-seeking congregation, then we must accept everyone just as they are," he said.