On The Issues carries some quotes from Al Sharpton on the question of gay rights:
I am unilaterally opposed to any civil or human right being left to states' rights. That is a dangerous precedent. I think the federal government has the obligation to protect all citizens on a federal level. And if we start going back to states' rights, we're going back to pre-Civil War days, and I think that that, in its nature, is wrong.
Are we prepared to say gays and lesbians are less than human? If we're not prepared to say that, then how do we say that they should not have the same rights and human choices of anyone else?
My religion does not support homosexuality, but I do. I was asked why I was supporting and marching with the homosexuals in parades, when according to the church, homosexuality is a sin. I responded that God gave people free will. God gave people the right to choose - even to choose sin. That's why there is a heaven and a hell. So I will fight for people to have the right to go to hell if that's what they choose. I'm not here to judge. I was placed here to fight for justice for all people.
I believe that gays and lesbians deserve to have the same rights as heterosexuals. I believe that sexual orientation should not be an impediment in the workplace, in the housing marketplace, or in the adoption market. Just as I would fight for a black or Latino not to be discriminated against, I would fight equally for the rights of gays. I believe that gays and lesbians should have the right to adopt. Sexual orientation in no way matters when it comes to parenting - all children need is love.
A further quote from Al Sharpton was found on Keith Boykin's site, and it expresses a similar understanding of the separation of church and state:
As a minister I am for school prayer, but I am not for imposing prayer on schoolchildren. I believe that just as children are not forced to pray, they should not be forced from praying, if that's what they want to do...I will not stand in the way of a woman's right to choose… I would only appoint justices to the Supreme Court who are for women having the right to choose whether or not they will have an abortion.
Al Sharpton has his own beliefs about what is and is not moral - if you asked him whether you should have an abortion, I expect he would try and talk you out of it. That does not mean, however, that he would try to use the power of the state to force you to carry the baby to term. Similarly, he would not use the power of the state to force gays into the closet or to force children to recite particular prayers. Sure, he thinks that people who are gay, have abortions, or who aren't Christian may go to hell - but from a political perspective, he also thinks that that is their right. The government doesn't exist to keep people out of hell.
There is a lot of criticism out there about Al Sharpton, much of which appears to be legitimate. In this matter, however, I have to say: he gets it. He really, honestly, and sincerely gets the principle that the government shouldn't always be used to force people to conform to particular religious ideals about how people should act. He really understands the separation of church and state - and, since he is a religious leader, that means for him a separation between his religious beliefs and the authority of any elected office he might hold. If every elected official took a similar view, I think this country would be much better off.