Oakland became a focal point of the same-sex marriage debate Tuesday as the campaigns for and against Proposition 8 staged events to win hearts and minds, particularly in the faith community.
First, African-American civil rights activists and clergy members gathered on Oakland City Hall's steps at 11 a.m. to urge voters to oppose Proposition 8, which would amend the state constitution, banning same-sex marriage.
"I do not believe Christ is teaching us to take away rights from other people," said Roland Stringfellow of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley.
Equal Justice Society President Eva Paterson urged voters to "pray over this, think about your Scripture, think about who Jesus really was, think about who he hung around with. "... Jesus was all about love, and this is about being free to love who you want."
An hour later and 21/2 miles away, about 100 cheering, sign-waving people greeted a "Yes on 8" bus making its only Bay Area stop on a weeklong, statewide tour. Although the rally was in the parking lot of the predominately African-American Foothill Missionary Baptist Church, the crowd was mostly white and Asian/Pacific Islander.
"I'm in the business of saving souls," the Rev. Maurice Scott of Oakland's Great St. John Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church told the crowd. "We sit in different congregations, and we stand in different pews, but the word of God has brought us together today. "... Man shall not lie with mankind as he lies with a woman."
The Rev. Ray Williams of Oakland's St. John Missionary Baptist Association said Proposition 8 supporters "love our sisters and brothers; we don't hate anybody ... All are precious in God's sight." But civil unions grant same-sex couples enough rights, he said, and marriage should be only between a man and a woman.
The California Supreme Court in May ruled 4-3 that state laws restricting marriage to heterosexuals were unconstitutional; an estimated 11,000 same-sex couples have wed in California since. Proposition 8 supporters now seek to render the court's ruling moot by amending the constitution.
In recent weeks, millions of dollars have poured in on both sides and dueling television and radio spots are proliferating as Nov. 4 creeps closer.
Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums and Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, D-Alameda, had been expected to attend the "No on 8" event but neither did; organizers later said Dellums was stuck in a city budget meeting and Swanson had a scheduling conflict.
At the "No on 8" news conference, syndicated columnist and Resurrection Community Church pastor Byron Williams said he's "tired of debating the absurdity of whether folks that love each other should get married."
"This is not a church issue," he insisted — no church will be forced to do anything against its beliefs. And Williams said he blanches when Proposition 8 proponents complain about the "will of the people" being overruled by the state Supreme Court; Jim Crow "separate but equal" laws and a ban on interracial marriage used to be the will of the people too, he noted.
San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris called Proposition 8 "simply unfair; it's just not the right thing to do." The Supreme Court has interpreted state law to say "people should be treated equally and fairly," she said. "Everyone can have their opinion "... but leave folks alone who want to be treated equally and fairly."
And Berkeley City Councilman Darryl Moore, noting it would be unfair to bar him and his partner of 13 years from the right to marriage their neighbors enjoy, blasted the "Yes on 8" campaign's tactics as "deplorable" and "spreading the vicious lies."
At the "Yes on 8" rally, California Family Council director Ron Prentice thanked the crowd for "being unapologetic about how you feel about marriage in California. "... It's all about children; it's all about the next generation."
"Yes on 8" campaign manager Frank Schubert insisted "this is not about taking rights away from anybody," but rather about standing up for children's rights to have a mother and a father.
After the rally, Dennis McCourt of Union City crossed 16th Avenue to confront several people holding "No on 8" signs.
"I love you enough to tell you the truth "... that homosexuality is a sin," he told them. "We will not stand for this evil to be foisted upon our families "... over my dead body."
Sela Tuakoi of Oakland also crossed the street holding a "Yes on 8" sign, but she simply shook the "No on 8" protesters' hands. They disagree, she said, "but we are still friends."