Updated: November 15, 2013 6:15AM
‘Our time is pregnant with this,” he said. “I am feeling very confident this is going to happen.”
So predicts the Rev. Benjamin Ledell Reynolds, the new faith director of Illinois United for Marriage, the reinvigorated movement for same-sex marriage in Illinois.
The Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, pending in the Illinois General Assembly, would provide same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexuals already enjoy. The proposal prevailed in the Illinois Senate on Valentine’s Day, but later stalled in the House.
A coalition of local and national advocates has regrouped to launch a $2 million campaign that will bring new voices in the debate.
“The microphone always goes to someone who is not supportive, and there are folks out there who are,” Reynolds says. “We have seen that in the past.”
Last spring, media coverage was dominated by the clout-heavy voices of black ministers like Bishop Larry Trotter of the Sweet Holy Spirit Church, and former State Sen. James Meeks, senior pastor at Salem Baptist Church. They furiously lobbied the legislative black caucus, dispatched radio commercials and robocalls, exhorting a biblical argument, that God does not condone homosexuality.
Those voices were loud, but not truly representative.
“I know that in the African-American community there are clergy that are faith supporters. There are congregations who ‘get it’ and want to rally to support it,” Reynolds said.
His life is a parable for charging hearts and minds. He began preaching at 14 in his home church, a black congregation in Colorado Springs, and served as senior pastor for 16 years. The Colorado Springs Gazette dubbed him “The People’s Preacher.”
He was gay, but not “out,” he explained as we sat in the window of a South Loop coffee house.
Reynolds married, raised a child, divorced. At 45, he could no longer choose between his spirituality and sexuality.
Reynolds came out to his congregation, then resigned.
A church deacon told him, “ ‘We always knew, we just didn’t talk about it,’ “ Reynolds said, speaking in the lilting, yet precise enunciation of a trained preacher. “You didn’t talk about that in the black community.”
Today, there is talk, and change. He moved to Chicago and served for three years as director of the LGBTQ Religious Studies Center at the Chicago Theological Seminary.
Now, being out is “a badge of honor,” says the soft-spoken, contemplative man of faith.
Reynolds recently marched in Chicago’s iconic Bud Billiken Day Parade. The nation’s largest of its kind, Billiken draws hundreds of thousands every August.
He was prepared for blowback.
Instead, “they were cheering,” Reynolds recalled. “They were saying, ‘we support you,’ and ‘everyone makes their own choice.’ ”
And “not one negative comment.”
The marriage bill may emerge this fall during the General Assembly’s veto session.
Reynolds, now 52 and a grandfather, argues that same-sex marriage rights will boost the community’s bottom line, ensuring all “the benefits to provide for their families.”
And the biblical argument? “For me, the Bible is the book of love.” As the sun streamed in our window, he paraphrased the “golden rule,” Matthew, 7:12. “Do to others what is done to you — what you want done to you.”