(The Root) — On Saturday the board of the NAACP endorsed marriage equality in a vote by the 64-member body. On Monday the civil rights organization's chairman and president held a press conference to clarify what this position means exactly.
Laying out the organization's guiding principles of political, educational, social and economic equality for all people, and challenging discrimination under the law, Chairman of the NAACP Board of Directors Roslyn Brock said that their support for the right of same-sex couples to marry is about equal treatment in the eyes of government.
"The NAACP did not issue its support of marriage equality from a personal, moral or religious perspective," said Brock, speaking from the organization's Baltimore headquarters. "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."
With that, Brock explained that the NAACP board voted from the perspective of the Constitution. "This history and commitment to separation of church and state continues as we stand for equality — marriage equality under the law," she said.
NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous added that the board's vote is not much of a change from past positions that it has taken on the matter of same-sex marriage. In addition to individual leaders who have spoken in favor of allowing gay people the right to marry (including Jealous and Chairman Emeritus Julian Bond), the organization has officially opposed anti-marriage-equality laws on several occasions, including high-profile ballot measures in North Carolina and California as well as the Defense of Marriage Act, dating back to the mid-1990s.
"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, stressing the NAACP's responsibility to speak up on the civil rights issues of our time. "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."
When asked if the organization is worried about backlash from African Americans who are "religiously based," Jealous pushed back on the notion that the movement for marriage equality excludes religious people. "I would like to point out that many of us are religiously based," said Jealous, explaining that Brock is an ordained reverend and the board includes other clergy members. "We do this work because of our faith, not in spite of it. With that said, our calling as an organization is to defend the U.S. Constitution. We are here to speak to matters of civil law and matters of civil rights."
Cynthia Gordy is The Root's senior political correspondent.