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NAACP: Marriage is a civil right

The NAACP, longtime champion of the civil rights movement, recently adopted a resolution affirming that marriage is a civil right and stating that denying the right to gays is wrong.

On May 19, the board of directors for the 103-year-old NAACP met at its headquarters on Hope Drive in Baltimore and approved a resolution that reads:

“The NAACP Constitution affirmatively states our objective to ensure the ‘political, educational, social and economic equality’ of all people. Therefore, the NAACP has opposed and will continue to oppose any national, state, local policy or legislative initiative that seeks to codify discrimination or hatred into the law or to remove the Constitutional rights of LGBT citizens. We support marriage equality consistent with equal protection under the law provided under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Further, we strongly affirm the religious freedoms of all people as protected by the First Amendment.”

The NAACP, the largest, oldest and most widely recognized grassroots civil rights organization in the country, was established in 1909. The group’s name is synonymous with civil rights achievements in the 20th century.

“When people ask why the NAACP stands firmly for marriage equality, we say that we have always stood against laws which demean, dehumanize or discriminate against any person in this great country,” said Roslyn M. Brock, NAACP board chair. “That is our legacy. For over 103 years we have stood against such laws, and while the nature of the struggle may change, our bedrock commitment to equality of all people under the law never will.”

Brock focused on the 14th Amendment, which says in part, that no state “shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

“Marriage equality is just that, the right to be treated equally in the eyes of the government,” she said.

Since at least the 1990s, the NAACP and affiliated state conferences have challenged marriage discrimination against gays and lesbians. The national organization opposed passage of the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 and state conferences fought anti-gay amendments, including the ballot initiatives in North Carolina and California.

In those fights and others, NAACP leaders often looked back to the struggle against marriage inequality as represented in Loving v. Virginia, the landmark 1967 case in which the U.S. Supreme Court declared unconstitutional Virginia’s anti-miscegenation statute, which banned interracial marriage.

Speaking to the press on may 21, NAACP president and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous recited the words that Mildred Loving wrote a year before she died: “I am proud that Richard’s and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.”

Jealous said the board’s recent resolution makes the NAACP’s support for marriage equality for gays unequivocal.

“What has really changed and why this statement now?” Jealous asked. “What has 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 one proposed law or any one state. We feel it is important that everyone understand our commitment to equality under the Constitution and to marriage equality.”

The historic NAACP endorsement followed an announcement from president Barack Obama that his exploration of the issue has led him to support legalizing same-sex marriage. Days later, former Secretary of State Colin Powell said that he doesn’t “see any reason not to say that (same-sex couples) should be able to get married under the laws of their state or the laws of the country.”

American Civil Liberties Union legislative representative Ian Thompson said the NAACP’s resolution signals the failure of the National Organization for Marriage’s divide-and-conquer strategy.

Earlier this year, an investigation of NOM’s campaign finance practices in Maine produced internal memos outlining the anti-gay group’s attempt to pit blacks against gays to drive a wedge between two core Democratic Party constituencies.

“Underpinning this strategy is a really poisonous assumption that the LGBT community is separate and apart and in one corner, while racial and ethnic minorities are in another,” Thompson said. “Of course we know this is not the case. America is much more diverse and connected across ethnic, racial and sexual orientation lines than organizations like NOM seem to be aware.”

An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll conducted in May found that half of African-Americans back marriage equality. A Washington Post poll showed that 54 percent of African-Americans backed the president’s statement on marriage equality, and a public policy poll taken in North Carolina after Obama’s announcement showed an 11-point increase in support for marriage equality among blacks in the state.

“It’s time the shameful myth that the African-American community is somehow out of lockstep with the rest of the country on marriage equality is retired – once and for all,” said Joe Solmonese, outgoing president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT group. “The facts and clear momentum toward marriage speak for themselves.”

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