Gay Marriage Checkmate in DC

Bishop Harry Jackson has been more than a trusted ally of the religious right. In the past few months, from his church headquarters in Beltsville, Maryland, Jackson has led a coalition of mostly African American religious leaders in a battle over same-sex marriage.

Nevertheless, on December 19, 2009, Washington, DC officially legalized same-sex marriage by a City Council vote of 11-2. On March 3, same-sex couples were able to go to Room 4485 in the DC Superior Court, pay a $45 fee, and apply for a marriage license.

Case closed? Hopefully. But that didn’t stop Jackson. After losing the battle over the rights of gays and lesbians to marry, Jackson took another tack, demanding that citizens of the District of Columbia get an opportunity to vote on the issue. Jackson was clearly looking for something along the lines of Proposition 8, the November 2008 California ballot initiative that revoked the rights of same-sex couples to marry there.

"Although he’s failed three times to get a ballot measure past the Board of Elections and Ethics, Jackson won’t quit," Metro Weekly’s Richard J. Rosendall recently reported. In a column dated February 8, Jackson wrote that, "Despite the [DC] council and [DC Delegate to Congress] Eleanor Holmes Norton’s dealing behind the scenes, the cry, ‘Let the People Vote’ has reached the ears of many on the Hill."

One of those on the Hill is Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), who in late January introduced legislation in the House to repeal DC’s gay marriage law directly. Jackson also managed to get nine of the Senates’ most conservative members to carry a similar bill. However, the Washington Post reported that Holmes Norton said she had "received assurance from House Democratic leaders" that the House "would not vote on Chaffetz’s resolution."

Stand for Marriage

Jackson’s group, Stand for Marriage DC, has raised a fair amount of money for his campaigns. According to a DC Agenda report, "Two religious groups linked to Bishop Harry Jackson’s church…have provided more than $102,000…. Contributions from the High Impact Leadership Coalition and Christian Hope Ministries-High Impact comprise slightly more than half of the $199,530 raised as of January 31 to fight the city’s same-sex marriage law, according to reports filed with the DC Office of Campaign Finance…. Nearly all of the $97,338 that reports show were contributed by other donors came from national anti-gay groups, including Focus on the Family, Family Research Council Action, the group’s political arm and the National Organization for Marriage." Interestingly, there were no donations from DC residents.

In "Point Man for the Wedge Strategy," the People for the American Way Foundation pointed out that, since endorsing George W. Bush in 2004, "Jackson has become somewhat of an all-purpose activist and pundit for right-wing causes—everything from judicial nominations to immigration and oil drilling—but his top priorities mirror those of the Religious Right: he’s fervently anti-abortion and dead-set against gay equality. And he has enthusiastically adopted the Right’s favorite propaganda tactic: he routinely portrays liberals, especially gay-rights activists, as enemies of faith, family, and religious liberty."

Over the years, Jackson has appeared at several high-profile religious right-sponsored events—often as one of the very few African Americans in the room. In 2004, Jackson co-authored a book with Christian pollster George Barna titled High Impact African American Churches and later co-authored Personal Faith, Public Policy with the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins. In 2005, Jackson became a very public and much sought after figure, at least in Christian conservative circles. That year, he founded the High Impact Leadership Coalition, which aims to "help educate and empower church, community, and political leaders in urban communities in the United States focus on moral value issues."


As People for the American Way’s Right Wing Watch pointed out, the High Impact Leadership Coalition’s Los Angeles launch was co-sponsored by Rev. Louis P. Sheldon’s Traditional Values Coalition, a long-time anti-gay network of Christian churches "with close ties to the [Bush] White House, RNC chair Ken Mehlman, and other senior Bush administration officials." Right Wing Watch noted that, "The number one priority of the black pastors at the conference was to endorse a heterosexual, biblical interpretation of marriage on behalf of the black community."

In the summer of 2005, Jackson was a featured speaker at Justice Sunday II: God Save the United States and This Honorable Court, an event organized by James Dobson’s Focus on the Family and Perkins’s Family Research Council. At the time, Ted Haggard, head of the National Association of Evangelicals, claimed that Jackson was "building a bridge between white evangelicalism and African American evangelicalism that we haven’t had in 20 years." The Christian Post named Jackson one of the 50 most influential Christians.

In November 2009, the Washington Post ran a 2,200 word profile of Jackson ("Seeking to put asunder"), chronicling his multi-pronged fight against DC’s same-sex marriage legislation and calling him "one of the more vociferous leaders in the anti-gay-marriage movement across the country." Jackson told the Washington Post that he "feel[s] like I’m on a mission. It’s not a mission of hate. It’s a mission to protect godly boundaries."

Jackson authored The Black Contract with America on Moral Values, a hodgepodge of issues that (with notable exceptions) wind up in conservative contracts:

  • Family Reconstruction: protection of marriage, end abortion, black child adoption by "stable Christian families"
  • Wealth Creation: transformation of minority communities to encourage indigenous business, "prison after-care," Social Security reform, job manufacturing to lower unemployment
  • Education Reform: school choice that doesn’t destabilize existing public schools, increase black education participation, lessen drop-out rates, encourage No Child Left Behind structure
  • Prison Reform: improve "3 strikes you’re out" system, avoid recidivism with legislation like the Second Chance Act
  • Health Care: affordable health care for blacks, long-term health education
  • African Relief: direct funds to build infrastructure and stop the genocide in Sudan, stop U.S. companies from exploiting the Khartoum people by negotiating for fossil fuels

Jackson was against the Obama administration’s health-care reform from the very beginning, telling reporters in an August news conference that "there’s something wrong with a system that says…the least of these have to be served." On March 22, the day after health-care reform passed in the House, Jackson wrote, "One party has imposed its will on the nation."

In what amounted to a tortured rewriting of history, Jackson stated that he was "personally outraged at the duplicity and ‘hard ball’ politics that have marked the Democratic Party’s approach to one of this decade’s most important issues." Then came denial, coupled with a defense of some of the tea partiers racial slurs aimed at Democratic legislators. "In order to win" over certain constituencies, including the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, "the race and class cards have been played simultaneously in a de facto manner.

"Many opponents to healthcare have been demonized and labeled racists because they have voiced legitimate concerns with process, philosophy, and practicality of the proposed reforms. In this debate, most Americans have been guilty of thinking about their own personal needs, instead of what’s best for the nation."

Although Jackson may have lost his fight against same-sex marriage and health-care reform, he is an outspoken opponent of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, so look for him to be leading the effort to stop ENDA.


Bill Berkowitz is a freelance writer covering conservative movements. His articles have appeared in such venues as Inter Press Service, Media Transparency, Talk2 Action, Dissident Voice, In These Times, the Progressive, and the Nation.