In 2003, the Rev. Roland Stringfellow, who had served as pastor of a fundamentalist Baptist church in Indiana for a decade, resigned quietly rather than face his black congregation and explain that he was a gay black man.
"At that time, the best thing was not to proclaim it," Stringfellow told ABCNews.com. "When it comes down to being a black man, oftentimes we are forced to make a decision, 'Is my community or family more important than my own well-being?' We choose to live in silence and play the role, living on the down low."
Today, 39, and living in San Francisco, Stringfellow belongs to a more socially liberal church and hopes to be married one day. He is openly fighting California's Proposition 8, a ballot initiative to outlaw recently legalized gay marriage, and cultural prejudices in his community.
But Stringfellow's views may not be typical of most minorities in California, who could hold the key to the future of gay marriage in the most populous state in the nation.
If passed, the ban would amend the state constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman.
In this historic presidential election year, political observers say high voter turnout for Democratic front-runner Barack Obama -- who is predicted to draw record numbers of churchgoing blacks and Hispanics -- may spell the demise of legal gay marriage in California.
"Maybe people don't want to talk about it, but it is definitely a major issue," said Stringfellow. "They feel [gay marriage] takes away from the image of the strong, black family. I think it's a shame that those of us who are gay or bisexual and want to be responsible for our families are not even allowed to because family members see our contributions as less and counter to the black culture."
Black parishes that argue scripture opposes same-sex marriage are joined by a broad coalition of traditional churches -- from white evangelicals and Mormons to Hispanic and Chinese Christian parishes and even some orthodox Jews.
The opposition includes gay and civil rights groups, unions, businesses and corporations, ethnic lobbies and Hollywood actors like Samuel Jackson, Brad Pitt and Ellen DeGeneres.
But, in another twist to this complex issue, both the NAACP and the National Black Justice Coalition have broken with many black parishes.
In a survey of 35,000 Americans about religious beliefs conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 46 percent of those who attend historically black churches believe that society should discourage homosexuality. But that group is far more accepting of gays and lesbians than white evangelicals or Mormons, who frown on them at rates of 64 percent and 68 percent respectively.
People for the American Way Foundation, whose African American Ministers Leadership Council has embarked on a multiyear project to challenge homophobia, found in focus groups that older churchgoing blacks in California were open to marriage equality.