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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 25, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 21
NAACP endorses marriage equality: 'A long time coming,' Seattle NAACP president says
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NAACP endorses marriage equality: 'A long time coming,' Seattle NAACP president says

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

On May 19, the NAACP - the country's oldest and largest civil rights organization - endorsed marriage equality in a strongly worded resolution that passed the group's board by an overwhelming 62-2 vote.

'We make this statement today because it is the legacy and responsibility of the NAACP to speak up on the civil rights issue of our times,' said NAACP President Ben Jealous during a press conference after the vote.

'We are both proud of our history and challenged by it - challenged to never allow threats to equality for all people under the law to go uncontested.'

Jealous also took the opportunity to explain the significance of the group's endorsement.

'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,' he said.

'We feel it is important that everyone understand our commitment to equality under the Constitution and to marriage equality specifically.'

'This is something that's been a long time coming,' Seattle NAACP president James Bible told SGN. 'And it's a little late, frankly.'

'It's a human and civil rights issue, and if we ignore this issue we're not acting in accord with our history and our principles,' Bible continued. 'Civil rights and family values. Rights under the law. Everyone has a right to have a family and to raise children.'

Zach Silk, campaign manager for Washington United for Marriage - the Approve Referendum 74 coalition - welcomed the NAACP action.

'We are very pleased that the NAACP has taken this historic step to endorse marriage equality,' Silk told SGN.

'The NAACP knows perhaps better than anyone else the value of fundamental human principles like the right to marry the person you love - regardless of race, or sexual orientation.'

In an emotional interview with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow on May 23, Jealous revealed that his parents had to drive from their home in Baltimore to Washington, D.C., to get married, because interracial couples could not marry in Maryland.

Bible's own family history paralleled this experience, he told SGN.

'In many states it would have been illegal for my grandmother and grandfather to get married. One was white - Swedish - and one black,' he said. 'As it was, it led to a cross-burning on their lawn here in Seattle.'

Jealous, who spoke out against North Carolina's Amendment One to ban legal recognition of all same-sex relationships, said he hoped the NAACP's endorsement of marriage equality would have a political impact.

'I hope this will be a game-changer,' Jealous told the Associated Press in an interview.

'There is a game being played right now to enshrine discrimination into state constitutions across the country, and if we can change that game and help ensure that our country's more recent tradition of using federal and state constitutions to expand rights continues, we will be very proud of our work.'

Silk also looked forward to 'the national NAACP's commitment to help uphold marriage equality on the ground in states like ours.

'Their support will be important as we urge everyone who believes in a Washington that values freedom and equality to vote to Approve Referendum 74 in November,' he said.

Asked if he believed the NAACP resolution would have an impact on the Referendum 74 campaign, Bible replied, 'We've been working on it.'

'It's a delicate situation with some institutions in the community,' he explained. 'We've had pushback previously - concerns from certain pastors - or from a certain pastor.'

'But,' he continued, 'some of our greatest leaders were Gay. Brother Outsider - have you ever seen that film?' he asked, referring to a biopic of Gay civil rights activist Bayard Rustin. 'You can see what some of the dynamics were.'

Asked what LGBT activists could do to help African-American leaders persuade their community that marriage is a civil right, Bible replied, 'Be unapologetic. Continue to push for your legal and civil rights.'

The hard part, Bible added, will be to have dialogue with people who are not yet convinced by President Obama or the NAACP.

'If I had a son or daughter - I don't, but if I did - I hope they would feel they were in a safe place, and that I would be there for them,' Bible said. 'And I hope that people would be in a place where they could embrace their loved ones.

'But that's a tougher conversation - right? To have a conversation with those who are opposed [to marriage equality]. But it needs to continue.'

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