ARLINGTON, VA (WUSA) -- Will President Obama's support for marriage equality cost him votes from devout African Americans?
We heard two different coalitions of African American pastors taking very different and very public stances Friday on same-sex marriage.
Rev. William Owens of the Coalition of African American Pastors hammered Mr. Obama: "The President of the United States, who is a Black man, to endorse same sex marriage, should be put out of office, and he never should have been elected."
Surrounded by clergy from across the South, and perhaps risking his tax-exempt status, Owens announced a nationwide campaign against the President. "I want the Democratic Party to know, you don't own us, and you don't own black people," he said in a hotel ballroom in Arlington.
But Owens' critique of the gay marriage is far from universal.
Another coalition of pastors from Maryland and across the country announced their support for marriage equality. "You cannot be for civil rights for African Americans, but against civil rights for gays and lesbians," said former Democratic Presidential candidate Rev. Al Sharpton at a press conference at the National Press Club in DC.
Sharpton and other pastors endorsed Question 6 on Maryland's November ballot, which would give same sex couple's in the state the right to civil marriage -- but also protect clergy who oppose gay marriage. "We are here to announce our unequivocal support," said Rev. Delman Coates, of Mt. Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, Md.
Conservative evangelicals think gay marriage could be a wedge issue for Democrats. "I challenge anyone who stuggles with homosexuality, anyone who thinks you're gay, to go to a deep place of worship," said Janice Fontaine, who says she's organizing the New Independent Christian Party.
But polls now suggest that Maryland could be the first state in the country to approve same sex marriage at the ballot box.
Critics say gay marriage opponent Rev. Owens is a long-time Republican. And he admits that an anti-same sex union group called the National Organization for Marriage has been paying his salary.
Written and Reported by Bruce Leshan
9News Now & wusa9.com