For nine years, I had a kind of fantasy marriage that existed in some other land.
It was a marriage “in quotes.”
I had to describe it in a way that sounds like a joke’s punch like… after an ellipses.
I was married… “in Canada!”
Then I was married… “according to the IRS!”
On July 26th, the nation’s highest court dropped the fantasies, quotes, ellipses and bad jokes.
I was married in my own home.
This special, hour-long podcast celebrates that victory by bringing you the voices of the people who made it possible.
And no, that doesn’t involve the Notorious RBG.
Long before the ruling in Obergefell vs. Hodges, gay-positive Savannah residents have pushed for the rights of all people to include LGBT citizens. You will hear:
- Marriage equality supporters Billy Wooten, Pam Miller, Dave Messner, Hank Reineke, Rich Brown and Kevin Clark
- Chatham County’s first legally wed same-sex couple, Christie Baer and Kindra Baer
- Pastor Candace Hardnett and evangelist Erika Hardnett of Agape Empowerment Ministries
- Wilson Huff and Lawrence Marley, founders of First City Network, Georgia’s oldest LGBT organization
The longest segment focuses on Candace and Erika Hardnett. And their story bears some emphasis here, too.
Candace and Erika (formerly Erika Majors) couldn’t wait for the US Supreme Court. They got married last year in Las Vegas, Nevada. They came to Savannah from San Diego in 2008.
But heir immediate concern when they came here wasn’t changing laws. It was changing souls. They came here expressly to found Agape Empowerment Ministries, a church dedicated to affirming LGBT people of color.
“A woman led me back to Christ,” Candace says. “I knew then that if God’s using a female, someone that I’m involved with, to lead me to Him, how can it be wrong?”
No other LGBT-friendly church here offers an African-American style of worship. It’s exuberant, spirited and gospel-filled. That’s important in a majority black city.
That’s important when the black church is often the center of black life. That’s important when most black churches are stridently anti-gay.
And, frankly, even if you’re an atheist or can’t relate to African-American traditions, it’s important for LGBT people of all races. Because we need more out and proud people to advance the struggle for LGBT rights.
Agape gives African-Americans a place to be out and proud and celebrate Christ. The pair is quick to point out that Agape isn’t just LGBT and black. But it’s the majority.
“If I can’t find it in the Scriptures, where’s it coming from?” she asks of anti-gay church rhetoric. “The Bible does not substantiate that gays are in opposition to God.”
We talked a lot during our conversation a lot about the black church. Throughout history, the African-American church has been there to lift and push people through hard times.
The exception has been for gays. If most black churches aren’t preaching hell, they have a “don’t tell” policy that makes some parishioners leave their “whole selves” at the door.
“A lot of African-American congregations have taken this opportunity to become the oppressor,” Candace says. “They refuse to see the similarities.”
Hardnett and Majors confront the anti-gay Biblical falsehoods head on. But is that the best way to campaign for LGBT rights in the conservative Bible Belt?
No, they say. LGBT rights are civil rights. And applying Biblical reasoning to the laws of the state is mixing issues. They preach LGBT-positive messages to affirm one group, not to lobby another.
“The question is not whether this is right or wrong,” Candace says. “The question is, are our people being held under the same law, are they being protected?”
When asked how other black pastors have responded to her ministry’s presence and her advocacy here, Candace gives a confused look, a long silence and laughs.
“I don’t know and don’t care!” she exclaims. “I’m here to serve Christ and I’m not concerned what other pastors feel or think.”
Personally, Candace and Erika make an adorable couple. They met in San Diego, where they were both studying for the ministry. Their first date was at a Jewish deli.
Erika calls Candace “Spongebrain” because she studies and remembers a lot. Candace is more of the home body, preferring dinner and movies at home to nights out.
And ministry isn’t their only business. Erika developed and sells a weight loss product, Me and HCG. They had a store for a while in the Oglethrope Mall. It’s now online.
“Our agenda is to buy groceries, plan a family, raise productive members of society, feed our dogs,” Erika says. “That’s our gay agenda, to live life.”
They are planning to have a child. In between all of this, they do things like go down to the county courthouse and attempt to register their marriage in Georgia.
They were turned away, prompting news coverage. It wasn’t the first time they’ve been outspoken on the issue. They marched in Washington. They appear in media campaigns.
And so it’s important to recognize their efforts to break the molds and the shackles that have led many to complacency in the Savannah area.
“God has called us to be leaders within our community,” Erika says. “We have put fear aside and stepped up to it.”
Agape Empowerment Ministries is now holding services Sunday mornings at ten at Muse Arts Warehouse on Louisville Road.