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Bishop: 'I See Marriage As A Sacred Institution'


I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, if you follow sports you might have sympathy - or not - for heartbroken March Madness fans whose schools have already flunked out. We're going to ask why we care so much when our brackets are broken. That conversation is in just a few minutes. But first we want to return to two important cases being argued in the Supreme Court this week.

There are two cases before the court that could dramatically expand the rights of same sex couples to the same benefits that heterosexual partners now enjoy. We've been focusing less on the legal arguments before the court and more on how people feel their lives have been affected or will be affected by the law.

Yesterday we heard from Robin Shahar. She's a gay woman who lost a job offer two decades ago after boss found out she was marrying her female partner in a private religious ceremony. She unsuccessfully attempted to sue, but her case was not taken up by the Supreme Court. Today we want to hear a different perspective, so we turn to Bishop Harry Jackson Jr. He is the senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Maryland.

He's been on the frontlines of the fight against same sex marriage. He was a key part of the coalition that helped to pass Proposition 8. That's California's same sex marriage ban that had its day in court on Tuesday. Bishop Jackson also spoke at the Marriage March in Washington D.C. this week. That was a rally held by opponents of same sex marriage. And he's with us now. Welcome back to the program. Thanks so much for joining us once again.

HARRY JACKSON, JR.: Michel, thank you for having me.

MARTIN: Well, first of all, what was the mood outside the court among people who share your point of view, people who oppose same sex marriage?

JR.: Well, I think they were very encouraged that they had their day in court at that level. I think also that there was a lot more peace between both sides. Yeah, there was a little shouting back and forth but I remarked as we were walking along that this is what America is all about - people in relative safety being able to share differing opinions.

And we're walking away and nobody's bloody and beat up. And I think that's the way it should be. My thought is people are going to have their say and ultimately we're going to have to live by what these guys down here in the black robes decide. And that's better than any other country in the world. And so I was proud to be an American.

I was proud that people who disagree with me were able to be civil and my people didn't act up and act out, if you will, on our side. Because sometimes in moments like this the crazy people feel like it's their responsibility - on both sides - to show up at these historic moments and in some ways denigrate the proceedings.

MARTIN: How do you feel about the fact that leading up to these arguments the polls show that public opinion seems to be moving very quickly in the direction of people who support same sex marriage rights? I mean, kind of, most famously, Senator Rob Portman, a conservative senator who previously supported...

JR.: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...the Defense of Marriage Act, which is before the court, came out and said that his own son is gay and has changed his mind about it. And that seems to be very much in line with what we're seeing in the polls more broadly - whether people have a personal relationship with somebody who's gay or not. How do you respond to that?

JR.: Well, I know Rob Portman, personally. We went to the same junior high and high school together. And I was an upperclassman and I worked for his father, with one of my first jobs at undergraduate school. So I know those folks. They're the salt of the earth kinds of people. And, you know, they fought in some ways with the whole civil rights things or rights with blacks.

And so I've got great respect for those folks. So my thinking is that we're going to move as a culture toward the right thing. I think that nobody should be withheld rights in our culture. I think the idea, though, is renaming, redefining marriage. I don't want to go into all the court's issues today. And I see marriage as a sacred institution.

I feel as though there could've been other ways to come at this thing, had the politicians been more - thinking about this a different way. So for me, I feel that we're going to wind up at the end of the day, wherever the court brings us to, and I'm looking at reviving a marriage culture in America. I think heterosexual, homosexual, however you look at life, folks have got to say that most Americans are not thinking about marriage as, number one, permanent.

They're looking at living together as probably the more prevalent way that people come together. I think Americans are going to lose if we don't somehow rally back to a more permanent union. I see among my teenagers, which I've spent a - who I've spent a lot of time with - this last month I spent a whole entire month speaking to teenagers in my church that there is something I'm going to call a father wound among them, especially black teenagers.

So that concerns me most of all.

MARTIN: Well, that speaks to the question I think a lot of people have, which is, you know, the question many people who support same sex marriage ask is why wouldn't you stand up for marriage if you've got a group of people who want to embrace marriage as a lifelong and serious commitment? Why would you tell them no? And why would their desire to be married to each other compromise your marriage bond with your own wife?

JR.: Well, I would call what they want more of a civil union than a marriage. In my world - again, I think we started talking about this - using my religious terms, versus, maybe what we have is something else. And I think people have the right to live together with whoever they want to live with, but marriage as I understand it, is an architectural blueprint given to us by God to produce certain outcomes that two men or two women cannot really produce.

Marriage, I think, is a container that God has ordained to release something in the earth that needs several ingredients, and the last ingredient is the grace of God for an institution that he has created and will bless. And that's a whole theological discussion. So looking at it that way, I'm really concerned about the abdication of men, of their responsibility to be engaged with children that they created, and I see a whole lot of wounded younger people - 12, 13, 14, 15 - that are acting out a whole lot of behaviors that will be self-destructive.

And so, to use an old nursery rhyme, I see Humpty Dumpty having had a great fall, and all the king's horses and all the king's men can't put these broken people back together again right now, with all kinds of teen suicide.

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

JR.: And other issues happening right now.

MARTIN: But what does that - so what do you envision if more people are allowed to marry who are of the same gender? What is it that you think is going to happen? Since people are already doing that. I mean, people are already partnered, but even for years, for decades - those are the litigants in this case are people who have been together for decades and say that they - you know, what do you envision will happen?

And if you're just joining us, I'm speaking with Bishop Harry Jackson Jr. He's been in the forefront of the fight against same sex marriage. The Supreme Court took up two cases involving same sex marriage this week. So what do you think is going to happen? What's the down - what's your worst case scenario you see if the court does, in fact, decide that people of the same gender who want to marry have the same rights as heterosexuals?

JR.: I think that the worst case from my perspective would happen is that we're going to have to look at what's taught in schools to children who have slightly different family concepts.

I think we have to decide what should be the curriculum in the courts or in the schools. What should kids who're raised in Christian homes be taught? I think we're eventually, as democracy lives out its life - we're going to come to a fair and balanced - to coin a hackneyed phrase - approach to training the next generation.

For me, the issue has always been about - what do we teach the kids and are we going to have an imbalance in what's going to be taught to them? That's always been my concern.

MARTIN: Same-sex marriage has been legal in your home state or the state where you live now and where your congregation is located since January. It's still relatively new. Do you see the negative effects that you fear?

JR.: I see some of them on the horizon. Yes.

MARTIN: Like what? Give an example.

JR.: Well, I think what you're going to deal with is - and it's already, sort of, working itself out in D.C. - is the curriculum celebrating homosexuality, if you will, coming into the classrooms. So there just needs to be balance. What I think radical gay marriage groups will want to do is simply have what I'm going to say - an imbalanced celebration of homosexuality as a lifestyle and a historical, let's say, recasting of history.

MARTIN: But if you argue that marriage is what's fundamental, could you argue the opposite, that actually having people who wish to be married lifts up marriage as the value, as opposed to destroying it?

JR.: I would say this to you to your logic. There are boundaries and balance in things and I think, theoretically, what you say could be right. What - and, practically, we just need people engaged in the discussion. What happens is pendulums swing, imbalances happen everywhere. The challenge we have with the Christian traditional marriage movement is very often - folks back away and then they get all energized and want to reinsert themselves and they have this tension. So I would like to see folks involved in watching curriculum and being involved.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, very briefly if you would, and we don't...

JR.: Sure.

MARTIN: ...have time for a rich discussion of this, but this is a moment in your faith tradition that is a pivotal moment in your faith tradition. Do you find this a faith challenging moment?

JR.: I don't. I think, after we lost in Maryland, I was concerned, but I think that we're going to find we need to go back to our roots, train our people and celebrate marriage.

MARTIN: Bishop Harry Jackson, Jr. is senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Maryland. Bishop Jackson, thanks so much for joining us. Happy Easter to you.

JR.: Thank you, Michel. Happy Easter to you.


MARTIN: Coming up, March Madness can mean March Sadness if your team goes down early in the big dance.

CHRIS HAINES: It was really tough to watch. And then, after the game, you know, you just - you kind of - you want to get out of there as quickly as possible.

MARTIN: But you're not on the court. Your life's no different, so just what is it that makes sports fans so invested in their teams? We found someone who's actually looked into that question and that's just ahead on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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