A group of black clergy members gathered in Maryland today in support of a bid to legalise equal marriage in the state, and to dispel the idea that all black ministers are against equal marriage.

The ministers who announced that they would rally today, in favour of legalising equal marriage have said that it is a civil rights issue, not a religious one, reported NBC.

Pastors and other clergy of the Mt Ennon Baptist Church, Clinton, led by Reverend Delman Coates, gathered in a public display of support, and were joined by Reverend Al Sharpton, president of National Action Network.

“As African-American Christian pastors and leaders, we cannot stand on the side of those who attempt to justify legalised discrimination under the guise of religious belief,” Reverend Coates said.

He conceded that questioning whether equal marriage is right or wrong, was legitimate for people of faith, but that public policy and theological arguments must be separated.

Reverend Coats had previously said: “The impression that all African-American pastors are fundamentally opposed to the idea of marriage equality is wrong,”

Reverend Sharpton said: “You cannot be a part-time civil rights activist,” he said. “You cannot be for civil rights for African-Americans but not for gays and lesbians.”

They also gathered with the intention of making clear that officiating same-sex marriages would still be optional, and that no church or member of clergy will be forced to do so.

Chairman of the Maryland Marriage Alliance, Derek McCoy, which opposes equal marriage, said that these clergy members were missing the point, that the government plays a role in how people live. He said:

“It is remiss to say that you can separate government from this issue when government is redefining marriage.”

Mr McCoy also said that there were a number of African-American churches still opposed to legalising equal marriage:

“And we’re going to let that be seen in the days ahead,” McCoy noted, alluding to plans for future advertising.

A spokesman for Marylanders for Marriage Equality, Kevin Nix, said the pro-equal marriage group would also be getting its message out in every way, including television, radio and online.

“We will be doing some advertising in the coming weeks,” he said.

Harry R Jackson Jr, pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, wrote on his church’s website a week ago:

“Though homosexual marriage advocates constantly slander the rest of us as irrational, hateful bigots, most people’s objections are quite sensible,”

“They do not want schools teaching their children ideas about homosexuality that will disrespect their religious convictions.”

The NAACP, based in Baltimore, endorsed equal marriage for gay people, back in May, but US Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney told the annual NAACP convention in July that he would oppose marriage equality.

If Marylanders vote in favour of equal marriage, they will be the first state to do so in a referendum. Maine, Minnesota and Washington states will also be voting on the same issue.