Behind the NAACP’s Marriage-Equality Move

Speaking to the press and The Root, the group's leaders dispelled misconceptions about their stance.

AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

One of the three board members who attended the press conference with Brock and Jealous was Bishop William Graves, from a Christian Methodist Episcopal church in Memphis, Tenn. Graves declined to answer questions after the press conference.

But Donald Cash of Maryland, another board member at the presser, said that he was proud to be representing an organization that “practices what it preaches.” He added, “A lot of organizations talk the talk, but they don’t walk the walk.”

Cash confirmed Jealous’ and Brock’s accounts of a civil rights organization driven by a commitment to equality rather than political expediency. He said that the issue was not on the agenda of the board meeting on Saturday but “just came up” because of some members’ concern about attempts to use anti-gay sentiment to rev up voter support.

In her statement, Brock elaborated on the thinking of the board members. “The NAACP did not issue its support of marriage equality from a personal, moral or religious perspective,” said Brock. “We deeply respect differences of personal conscience on the religious definition of marriage, and we strongly affirm the religious freedom of all as protected by the First Amendment. As the nation’s leading and oldest civil rights organization, it is not our role, nor our intent, to impress how any place of worship can act in its own house.”

As reported in Blogging the Beltway, Jealous said that the board’s vote isn’t much of a departure from past positions it has taken on same-sex marriage. Individual leaders of the organization have spoken in favor of allowing gay people the right to marry (including Jealous and Chairman Emeritus Julian Bond), and the organization has officially opposed anti-marriage-equality laws on several occasions, including ballot measures in North Carolina and California as well as the Defense of Marriage Act.

“What’s changed is that this is the first time that we have made a full statement on marriage equality that goes beyond the circumstances of any proposed law or any one state,” said Jealous. “We feel it’s important that all understand our commitment to equality for all under the law [and] the Constitution, and our commitment to marriage equality specifically.”

Jealous said that he expected the NAACP’s statement to have an impact on the debate in the black community, which polls have shown is less supportive than whites of same-sex marriage. “The NAACP has an 85 percent approval rating [in the black community],” he said. “In many communities, [our stated] positions matter.”

Edmund Newton is a freelance writer in the Washington, D.C., area.

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