The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's board voted at a leadership retreat in Miami to back a resolution supporting marriage equality, calling the position consistent with the equal protection provision of the U.S. Constitution.
“The mission of the NAACP has always been to ensure political, social and economic equality of all people,” Board Chairwoman Roslyn M. Brock said in a statement. “We have and will oppose efforts to codify discrimination into law.”
But the vote by the board of the nation’s top civil rights organization drew sharp criticism days later from the Coalition of African American Pastors (CAAP) which said its members include major leaders of the black church and civil rights leaders who marched with Martin Luther King Jr.
“The NAACP has abandoned its historic responsibility to speak for and safeguard the civil rights movement,” the Rev. William Owens, founder and president of CAAP, said in a statement Tuesday. “We who marched with Rev. King did not march one inch or one mile to promote same-sex marriage.”
CAAP announced it has launched a 100000 signatures4marriage.com petition “in support of traditional marriage.”
Same-sex marriage is legal in six states and the District of Columbia but 31 states have passed amendments to ban it.
The NAACP vote came about two weeks after President Barack Obama announced his support for gay marriage, setting off a flurry of political activity in a number of states. Obama's announcement followed Vice President Joe Biden's declaration in a television interview that he was “absolutely comfortable” with gay couples marrying.
“Civil marriage is a civil right and a matter of civil law. The NAACP's support for marriage equality is deeply rooted in the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution and equal protection of all people,” said NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous, a strong backer of gay rights.
Gay marriage has divided the black community, with many religious leaders opposing it. Pew Research Center polls have found that African Americans have become more supportive of same-sex marriage in recent years but remain less supportive than other groups. A poll conducted in April showed 39 percent of African Americans favor gay marriage, compared with 47 percent of whites. The poll showed 49 percent of blacks and 43 percent of whites are opposed.
Owens, in his statement, cited King’s Letter from the Birmingham Jail, saying in it he set out what constituted a civil rights violation: “How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: ‘An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.’”
“Same-sex marriage,” Owens said, “is an attempt to do the opposite of what Rev. King did. It’s an attempt by men to use political power to declare that an act contrary to God's law and to the natural law is a civil right.
“By paying homage to worldly political power and not to God's law, the men and women in the NAACP who voted to endorse gay marriage as a civil right have brought dishonor on themselves. We will not stand by and let our beloved civil rights movement be hijacked without a fight.”
Asked by South Florida Times Tuesday for a response to the CAAP statement, Jealous said through a spokesman the NAACP “does not have a position on same-sex marriage from a personal, moral, or religious perspective.”
“We deeply respect differences of personal conscience on the religious definition of marriage and we strongly affirm the religious freedoms of all as protected by the First Amendment,” the spokesman said. “One can be religiously and culturally heterocentric without being legally and constitutionally homophobic.”
CAAP said it held a press conference last week in Memphis, when major leaders of the Church of God in Christ, the largest black Pentecostal denomination in the country and the fifth largest Christian denomination of any kind, came together with African-American Baptists and other evangelicals to call on Obama to reconsider his support for gay marriage.
South Florida Times staff contributed to this report.
The mission of the NAACP has always been to ensure political, social and economic equality of all people. We have and will oppose efforts to codify discrimination into law.
– Roslyn Brock
The men and women in the NAACP who voted to endorse gay marriage as a civil right have brought dishonor on themselves.
– Rev William Owens
Photo: Benjamin Jealous