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Gay marriage issue poses challenge to Washington pastor

Derrick Harkins has had a tough week, taking phone call after phone call from pastors, friends and congregants who are angry over President Obama's endorsement of same-sex marriage. Many feel betrayed.

Harkins, the director of faith outreach for the Democratic National Committee, is the man they can vent to.

That would be challenge enough. But Harkins is also pastor of Washington's historic Nineteenth Street Baptist Church, which is generally theologically conservative. He's also on the board the National Association of Evangelicals, the country's largest such group.

Officially, Harkins' job as the DNC's point man on religious issues is to build the party's base by meeting with pastors to keep the faith community connected with the president. Unofficially, he plumbs the corners where public policy and faith meet, and tries to reconcile for the faithful the complications that can surface.

"It gives me the opportunity to share what I really believe are the meaningful advancements of this administration," Harkins said, citing Obama's initiatives on health care, education and immigration, among others. "This is a president who really believes in his values, and he is motivated by his faith."

When asked how he responds to those who question why they should vote for someone who doesn't espouse all their values, Harkins seemed to bristle.

To him, he said, much of the Democratic platform is about "being our brother's keeper and compassion." He added that the party "doesn't revolve around one or two hot-button issues."

When Harkins was appointed by the DNC in October, some Democrats questioned the choice. Nevertheless, prominent gay leaders in the party spoke out in his support.

In an email published last year by the Washington Blade, a gay newspaper, Harkins called himself "a strong defender of the rights of all people, including LGBT people."

"I consistently state, from the pulpit and elsewhere, that there is never a time when words or actions that dehumanize or marginalize any individual have a place in our life as a church and faith community," he wrote.

Meanwhile, the NAACP passed a resolution Saturday endorsing same-sex marriage as a civil right and opposing any efforts "to codify discrimination or hatred into the law."

The organization's board voted at a leadership retreat in Miami to back a resolution supporting marriage equality, calling the position consistent with the equal protection provision of the U.S. Constitution.

Same-sex marriage is legal in New York, five other states and the District of Columbia, but 31 states have passed amendments to ban it.

Gay marriage has divided the black community, with many religious leaders opposing it.

Pew Research Center polls have found that African-Americans have become more supportive of same-sex marriage in recent years but remain less supportive than other groups. A poll conducted in April showed 39 percent of African-Americans favor gay marriage, compared with 47 percent of whites. The poll showed 49 percent of blacks and 43 percent of whites are opposed.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.