The Rev. Al Sharpton, a prominent voice among African Americans, has cut a marriage equality video for the Human Rights Campaign that speaks to the clergy members and African Americans who will be critical to passing legislation in Maryland.
In the new video for the Americans for Marriage Equality campaign, the MSNBC host says, "As a Baptist minister, I don't have the right to impose my beliefs on anyone else. So if committed lesbian and gay couples want to marry, that's their business. None of us should stand in their way."
The video arrives as legislation is working its way through the Democratic-controlled Maryland legislature. Last year, the marriage equality bill passed the Senate for the first time but failed to receive a vote in the House of Delegates after it faced opposition from African-American lawmakers and fell short of support. African Americans make up nearly 30% of the population in Maryland, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Sharpton, a one-time manager for James Brown, hails from New York, where his civil rights advocacy began in the streets. He has ascended to an influential national position, even running as a Democratic presidential candidate in 2004. His National Action Network drew President Barack Obama as a speaker for its 20th anniversary celebration last year, the kind of clout that could lead to effective lobbying in Maryland.
Sharpton played the new video, which also runs under the banner of the Marylanders for Marriage Equality coalition, on his Politics Nation program on MSNBC Tuesday night. The coalition working to pass the bill consists of clergy members, LGBT advocates, organized labor, and the NAACP Baltimore chapter.
He also hosted Governor Martin O'Malley, who has made the legislation one of his priorities this session and testified before a Senate committee last week. The Democratic governor said that he "dialed up and put much more explicit language" about religious exemptions in the bill he introduced this year, echoing the law that passed in New York, and campaigns in Washington State and New Jersey. Efforts in those states have emphasized the balance between religious liberty and individual freedom. The Washington House of Representatives is expected to pass the bill Wednesday.
Asked about the ruling from a California appeals court Tuesday that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional, O'Malley, said, "I hope that it will have a persuasive influence on those delegates who are still open minded, in order to persuade them to vote for our bill. Our bill protects religious freedom and it also protects individual liberty, in this case, the right of any individual to marry whomever they should choose."
Sharpton asked O'Malley what he thought about Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, who has vowed to veto the bill that the Democratic-controlled state legislature is expected to pass next week. The Republican governor wants lawmakers to send the bill to a referendum, a suggestion that drew an outcry from state legislative leaders and African-American elected officials. However, a new poll found that 57% of likely voters support holding a referendum, while 48% favor marriage equality and 37% oppose it.
"I think the legislature is the best place to work these things out," said O'Malley, who like Christie is considered a potential 2016 presidential contender. "I think Governor Christie sounds like he wants to have his cake and eat it, too. I believe the better way to deal with this is straight up in the legislature."
The governor acknowledged that if the marriage equality bill passes in Maryland, it "might well" get challenged in a referendum this fall, depending on whether opponents gather enough signatures in a petition drive. Should a referendum occur, with President Obama on the ballot for reelection in the heavily Democratic state, advocates will need to focus on building support among the large numbers of African Americans expected to vote. A Washington Post poll last month found that 41% of African-American Democrats in the state support marriage equality, compared to 71% of white Democrats.