By HANNAH MORGAN
BALTIMORE—At one predominantly African-American church in east Baltimore, many members are campaigning against the legalization of same-sex marriage, but still planning to vote for President Barack Obama, despite his endorsement of same-sex marriage in May.
African-Americans make up a quarter of the Maryland's electorate, and could make or break the vote for same-sex marriage in November. Many are being guided by their church leaders to vote against the legislation, but also by their communities to vote for an African-American president who has supported same-sex marriage.
"I believe what the bible says. I can't see myself preaching anything against what it says," said Pastor John Robertson, but, "Everyone should vote for candidates that fit their belief system."
Robertson, of Kingdom Light Ministries, preaches from a converted nursery room on the second floor of a school center. He felt called by God to begin a church six years ago, and now leads the roughly 70-person African-American congregation each week in services, with help from most of his family.
Many are voting for Obama and against Question 6.
His son, Jonathan Robertson, 21, a senior graphic design major at Morgan State University, said his school is ablaze with election discussion. Same-sex marriage is a heated topic, but the presidential elections are almost unmentioned.
"I think the color line will play more (into the African-American vote) than anything that has to do with personal beliefs," Robertson said.
"People in my community don't know much about Romney, they don't trust him, he is just this rich, white guy. I'm a bit suspicious of that. I think the fact that Obama is black and has an air of familiarity, and the importance of his family, that will play into votes a lot more than same-sex marriage," Robertson said.
Robertson has homosexual friends, but will still vote against same-sex marriage, he said.
"At the root of it, they are still people. Everybody has their rights, their things they need to work out with God," he said.
Robertson doesn't see the battle for same-sex marriage as a civil rights issue.
"When I look at marriage, it is a God-blessed principle. You can't change the color of your skin. Whether you are African-American, Hispanic, Native American, you can't change that, but you can change your sexual orientation," he said.
At a recent Sunday service at Kingdom Light Ministries, the focus was on same-sex marriage.
The Sunday worship could be heard from the corner of Broadway and Chase Streets. Drums, singing and the faint cry of a trumpet rose above the Sunday morning traffic rattling by.
Congregants came from all over the city to sing, pray, and hear the sermon.
They filed up the worn steps into the small sanctuary, crammed full with padded folding chairs and decorated with colorful flags from around the world: Israel, Jamaica and Greece.
Bulletins stuffed with pamphlets from the Maryland Marriage Alliance sat on a table by the door.
The service begins at 11 a.m., but people wandered in throughout the next two hours, joining in whatever song was being projected onto the screen at the time. A team of musicians led the first part of the service, and repeatedly improvised, trading on and off with the congregation, so that most songs lasted well over ten minutes.
As the room swelled with the music, congregants silently wept, raised their hands, shook and swayed with prayer.
"When the atmosphere is set, we can feel the presence of God," said Sandra Fletcher, 64, a longtime member.
Eventually, the church came together for the sermon, which discussed the ballot initiative for same-sex marriage.
As Robertson delivered the sermon, he was repeatedly interrupted by grunts and drawn-out, "Amens," from congregants, as he read aloud from Leviticus 18:22: "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination."
Robertson drew the congregants' attention to the fliers in their bulletins showing opposite-gendered couples smiling with each other.
"Amens" filled the room.
The presidential election wasn't mentioned.
As the sermon wound down, another song played, and the congregants began to hug and chat amongst themselves, and grabbed extra fliers to distribute to friends on their way home.
"We are against gay marriage. We don't see how it lines up against what God intended for humankind
I can council people out of their lifestyles, gay marriage does not align with what God designed," Robertson said.
Stephanie Leach, 43, one of the ministers at Kingdom Light Ministries, has a close cousin who is gay. But she is planning to vote against same-sex marriage, she said.
Weeks before the election, Leach was fired up to vote for Obama.
"It wavered a little until I heard the debates. He won my heart again," she said of the president.