Monday, July 13, 2009

NAACP Struggles to Take Official Stance on Marriage Equality

The new president of the NAACP, Benjamin Todd Jealous, spoke with CNN's T.J. Holmes on the organization's struggle to take a stance on marriage equality.

In the interview below, he states they do support many issues concerning LGBT, including hate crimes, but when it comes to marriage, it's a divisive issue within their membership.

Something that struck me rather quickly in this interview was Jealous' incorrect recitation of the chant, "Gay, Straight, Black, White, Marriage Is a Civil Right." He quoted it as, "Gay, Straight, Black, White, Same Struggle, Same Fight."

This may seem like a minor detail, but it's not. Many African Americans I've spoken to or have read object to LGBT rights movement being directly compared to their rights movement. Now, I've been to countless protests, marches and rallies, and I've not once heard the chant that Jealous recited. I'm not accusing him of twisting the language purposefully to support his argument, nor that it's never been chanted, but I'm pointing out how the LGBT rights movement can be perceived and interpreted.

This is a delicate issue. I don't see the LGBT civil rights movement as being the same as the African American civil rights movement. Big differences exist, different effects of different types of discrimination. But in my opinion, it still boils down to the rights granted to us by the government, whether that be the protection of a minority or the benefits afforded to tax paying citizens. Either way you look at it, when the government is involved, it's a civil issue, and when that government discriminates, it's a civil rights issue.

The NAACP is a civil rights organization founded during the African American civil rights movement with that segment of the American population in mind. Yet to be leaders, you sometimes have to make unpopular decisions, even if it will anger those who follow you. In this case, people are looking to the NAACP to make that decision. They need to, soon, no matter what it is.

But I would like to remind them of the words of MLK's widow, Coretta Scott King:
"Gay and lesbian people have families, and their families should have legal protection, whether by marriage or civil union. A constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages is a form of gay bashing, and it would do nothing at all to protect traditional marriages."

"We are all tied together in a single garment of destiny... I can never be what I ought to be until you are allowed to be what you ought to be," she said, quoting from her husband. "I've always felt that homophobic attitudes and policies were unjust and unworthy of a free society and must be opposed by all Americans who believe in democracy."

"Gays and lesbians stood up for civil rights in Montgomery, Selma, in Albany, Georgia, and St. Augustine, Florida, and many other campaigns of the Civil Rights Movement. Many of these courageous men and women were fighting for my freedom at a time when they could find few voices for their own, and I salute their contributions."

"We have a lot of work to do in our common struggle against bigotry and discrimination. I say 'common struggle,' because I believe very strongly that all forms of bigotry & discrimination are equally wrong and should be opposed by right-thinking Americans everywhere. Freedom from discrimination based on sexual orientation is surely a fundamental human right in any great democracy, as much as freedom from racial, religious, gender, or ethnic discrimination."

Chicago Sun Times, April 1, 1998, p.18. "She said the civil rights movement 'thrives on unity and inclusion, not division and exclusion.' Her husband's struggle parallels that of the gay rights movement, she said."
Here is a quote from the Rev. Eric Lee, President of the Los Angeles chapter of MLK's Southern Christian Leadership Conference, who faces being fired because he took a stand for marriage equality.

"Any time one group of people are denied the same rights as other people, it is unequivocally a denial of civil rights."

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