NAACP rallies behind the president on marriage equality

By Alan Bean
Barack Obama’s recent announcement that he favors marriage equality was a game changer.
Nearly 60 percent of African Americans report supporting marriage equality according to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, up a remarkable 20 points from about 40 percent in similar polling earlier this year.
You would have seen a similar shift among white conservatives if, say, Ronald Reagan had suddenly come out for an easing of the war on drugs.
Most of us aren’t at all confident in our grasp of moral issues and tend to take our lead from a small cadre of respected opinion leaders.  Obama’s “evolution” on the gay marriage issue won’t impact Tea Party types because, in their eyes, the president doesn’t qualify as an opinion leader.
There is an odd dance, of course, between opinion leaders and the constituencies they influence.  If you get too far ahead of the parade, you may glance over your shoulder and notice that no one is following.  But gay marriage, as an issue, has finally come of age and when that happens, public opinion can shift quickly.
I find it interesting that only two NAACP board members objected to the group’s decision to endorse the principle of marriage equality since the Black church has traditionally taken a conservative stance on the issue.
But, as Pastor Amos C. Brown notes in this article from the Associated Baptist Press, the perception that some on the right hoped to use the gay marriage issue to win support among African-Americans played a large role in the sudden shift in Black opinion.  It is one thing to be disappointed in your president; it is something else altogether to vote for the opposition.  You may be screaming mad at the quarterback; but cheering for the other team is out of the question.
People of color tend to empathize with the GLBT community for the same reason American Jews were disproportionately supportive of the civil rights movement; they’ve seen this movie before.

Pastor Defends NAACP Marriage Stance

The NAACP voted overwhelmingly May 19 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.”

By Bob Allen

Associated Baptist Press

A Baptist minister and board member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said May 26 it would have been hypocritical for the 103-year-old civil-rights organization not to pass its recent resolution supporting marriage equality.

Amos C. Brown, pastor of Third Baptist Church in San Francisco and president of the city’s local NAACP branch, is a member of the organization’s national board of directors, which voted May 19 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.”

amos c brown
Rev. Amos C. Brown

“We came to this conclusion because the NAACP has stood for 103 years for the sole objective of fighting, advocating for, equal protection under the law for all marginalized citizens of this nation,” Brown explained in an interview on Interfaith Alliance head Welton Gaddy’s State of Belief radio program.

“It would have been hypocritical for us — in the face of these debates and a lot of the brouhaha that has been going on — to have in the past stood for the rights and equal opportunity for blacks, who were different than the majority culture who were our oppressors, and then to turn around and do to other people who are marginalized for whatever reason, and though they are citizens of this nation are not accorded equality of opportunity and equal protection under the law,” Brown said.

“We made it also very clear that we respected those who because of religious beliefs do not affirm marriage equality,” he added. “That’s what makes us America. We are a diverse nation. We are not monolithic. We are not a theocracy. We are a democracy.”

According to the New York Times, just two of the board’s 64 members, many of whom are religious leaders, opposed the resolution, putting the NAACP in line with President Obama’s May 9 endorsement of same-sex marriage.

NAACP leaders said May 21 the resolution had nothing to do with Obama’s statement but was in response to political groups that have been using same-sex marriage as a “wedge issue.” Brown, a protégé of Martin Luther King Jr., said those groups often support their arguments by quoting from the Bible.

“We must remember that people have historically used holy books and used our Bible to buttress and support their personal, narrow positions,” he said. “For the longest [time] people have kept women out of the pulpit, and still do today, by taking out of context the words of Paul that a woman is not to speak, she’s not to teach and all that.”

“And then we know also that even in the Old Testament there are things that are said that we don’t take literally,” he continued. “It is said in the Book of Deuteronomy if your child disobeys you, kill him or her. Very explicitly it is stated there. Now common sense would cause all of us to realize that you would not kill your child because your child does not take out the garbage. So we must be careful about how we use the Bible and take things out of context, as someone said, to make it a pretext for whatever our mess is.”

Brown said Christians must interpret the Bible against a backdrop of Christ-centered theology, and recognize that Jesus said nothing about gays.

“He did not say anything negative about people who have different social orientation,” he said. “And if Jesus did not, I wonder why are we engaged in what I consider to be fear tactics to maintain control over people, to politicize this issue?”

Brown called it a red herring to say the issue is about defending marriage, because U.S. divorce rates are highest in the Bible Belt. He also said if Americans were as “Christian” as some say, they would not have kept slavery going for 300 years and segregation for 96 years under the “separate but equal” doctrine that stood until the NAACP won a landmark Supreme Court battle in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.

It’s not the first time the NAACP has taken on the issue of marriage. The NAACP filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the 1967 case of Loving v. Virginia, which struck down anti-miscegenation laws prohibiting interracial marriage.

Because they are more religious, blacks historically tend to be more conservative than the national average when it comes to same-sex marriage, but a recent poll found a record 59 percent of African-Americans now favor gay marriage.

The president of the Iowa and Nebraska branch of the NAACP, Pastor Keith Ratliff of Maple Street Missionary Baptist Church in Des Moines, said he might resign over the national board’s endorsement of same-sex marriage.

“I’m praying over the matter,” Ratliff, a vocal opponent of gay marriage, told the Des Moines Register, “and I have to make a decision for myself as to whether I’m going to stay in the organization or not.”

Brown said NAACP directors are aware that not all African-Americans agree on the issue.

“There are those in the black community and in the churches who disagree with our position, but we cannot afford to be an organization that feels the pulse, tests the waters,” he said. “We’ve got to do what is right.”