More than two dozen black pastors added their voice to the critics of same-sex marriage (search), attempting to distance the civil rights (search) struggle from the gay rights movement and defending marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

"When the homosexual compares himself to the black community, he doesn't know what suffering is," said the Rev. Clarence James, an African-American studies professor at Temple University (search).

Jones and 29 pastors rallied late Monday with their supporters at an Atlanta-area church where they signed a declaration outlining their beliefs on marriage and religion.

The declaration is meant to pressure state representatives to approve a constitutional ban on gay marriages, which will be considered again by the Georgia House as soon as this week.

The declaration, to be presented to state leaders Wednesday or Thursday, says same-sex marriage is not a civil right, and marriage between a man and a woman is important because it's necessary for the upbringing of children.

"To equate a lifestyle choice to racism demeans the work of the entire civil rights movement," the statement said. "People are free in our nation to pursue relationships as they choose. To redefine marriage, however, to suit the preference of those choosing alternative lifestyles is wrong."

Same-sex marriage is already illegal in Georgia, but supporters of the ban say the constitution needs to be changed to make sure a judge does not direct Georgia to recognize gay marriages performed in other states.

"It is a threat to who we are and what we stand for," said Bishop William Shields of Hopewell Baptist Church. "If nothing else gets us out of the pews, this ought to."

But the Rev. Paul Turner, a gay pastor from Atlanta who helped organize a pro-gay marriage rally last month outside the Georgia Capitol, disagreed: "How do they figure that it's not a civil rights issue?"

"This is just a way for those conservative leadership in the black community to say, 'Look, this isn't a matter of civil rights because we're black and we didn't have a choice in being black.' And they think gays do, and that's not true," Turner said.

Elsewhere Monday:

— In Oregon, the county that was poised to become the state's second to allow gay marriage backed off until courts intervene. Commissioners in Benton County, home to Oregon State University and the liberal city of Corvallis, decided to stop issuing all marriage licenses until there is a court ruling on whether gay marriage is legal in Oregon.

— In St. Paul, Minn., supporters of a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage gathered by the thousands in one of the largest Capitol rallies in memory, waving hundreds of signs on the Capitol steps and spilling over onto the lawn and parking lot. The House is expected to pass the bill Wednesday, with a Senate committee planning to take up the measure later in the week.

— In New York, two Unitarian Universalist ministers facing criminal counts for officiating at same-sex weddings pleaded innocent. Kay Greenleaf and Dawn Sangrey were charged after marrying 13 gay couples during a public ceremony in New Paltz, but the district attorney has said he does not expect to seek jail time.

— In North Carolina's Durham County, a gay couple filed a lawsuit after being denied a marriage license. State law invalidates any claim of marriage between people of the same sex. Register of Deeds Willie Covington said the law gave him no choice.