Sunday, May 20, 2012

"Historic" Decision: NAACP Endorses Marriage Equality

The NAACP--the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization--has endorsed marriage equality. The group issued a statement yesterday that read:
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 move binds the legacy of the black movement for civil rights to the gay rights struggle, and some view the endorsement as "historic" in significance. The L.A. Times reported:
"Directors of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force erupted in applause at their board meeting Saturday as their phones buzzed with the news. “Today is a historic day,” Rea Carey, executive director of the task force, said a phone interview from Seattle. “This is what leadership looks like in this country.”

For more on the endorsement, see articles in the N.Y.Times and Wall St. Journal, both of which note the (positive) political implications for President Obama of the NAACP's endorsement. (The endorsement is consistent with the President's own groundbreaking position on same-sex marriage and should help shore up  support among African Americans, an important constituency, so the argument goes).

Electoral politics aside, it's important to note that Julian Bond, the former chairman of the NAACP and co-founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, personally embraced gay rights years ago and has since pushed black leaders inside and outside of the NAACP to do the same. For instance, in response to a 2004 query by Ebony magazine about whether gay rights should be considered a civil rights issue, Bond answered: "Of course.... 'Civil rights' are positive legal prerogatives--the right to equal treatment before the law. These are rights shared by all--and there is no one in the United States who does not--or should not--share in these rights. Gay and lesbian rights are not special rights in any way." See Crisis Magazine (2004) for more in-depth coverage of black spokespersons' views on gay rights.

In past discussions of the link between black civil rights and gay rights, Bond frequently noted that Bayard Rustin, a gay man, played an important role in the civil rights movement. An architect of the 1963 March on Washington, Rustin--a provocative intellectual--penned articles that gave the movement direction. For more on Rustin, see Lost Prophet: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin by John D'Emilio, The Troubles I've Seen by Jervis Anderson, I Must Resist: Bayard Rustin's Life in Letters by Bayard Rustin & Michael C. Long, ed., and Brother Outsider, an award-winning documentary.