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Delman CoatesIn Maryland, a contentious battle to get a same-sex marriage bill approved has spilled over into many of the state’s large churches with many Black residents resistant to the passing of the bill. Delman Coates (pictured), an African-American pastor who leads an 8,000-member church just outside of Washington, has openly supported the legislation’s approval, causing a rift in the church community, reports the Washington Post.

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Senior pastor Coates of the Mount Ennon Baptist Church in the Prince George’s County town of Clinton has stood alongside Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley during the heated debates surrounding the bill. Appearing in media events with O’Malley and also testifying during a reported argumentative hearing, Pastor Coates has taken on his critics even while other church leaders have protested his position.

“I think that using private, religious beliefs, and local church practices for legislation establishes a dangerous precedent in America,” he said. “We have fought for inclusion, for freedom of religion, so that means if I want to be free to exercise my own religious beliefs, I have to extend that same courtesy and right to others, regardless of what I may think they do in private,” said pastor Coates to the Post about his support of the bill.

Coates’ ideals clash heavily with fellow pastor Ralph Martino of the First Church of Christ in Washington, who urged listeners of a local faith-based radio station to visit Mount Ennon and air out their grievances against Coates for supporting the bill.

Many African-American ministers also do not agree with the bill’s proposal, citing bible references and the like, and statewide, polls show that just over half of the state’s residents oppose same-sex marriage.

Still, Coates does not seem deterred by his critics.

“Gays and lesbians are part of our communities, they are part of our families, they are part of our church families,” Coates said. “I believe that the church ought to be a place where all people, regardless of their lifestyle, ought to be welcome.’

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