After group’s board votes 62-2 to back equality, President Benjamin Jealous declares, ‘Civil marriage is a civil right and a matter of civil law’

Kirk Myers, left, and Dennis Coleman

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer

Local LGBT leaders said they were delighted this week after the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People passed a resolution Saturday, May 19, in support of marriage equality.

“I cried when I heard the news,” Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance President Patti Fink said.

She said the vote was especially significant because of the board’s 64 members, only two voted against the resolution.

“I’m appreciative,” Resource Center Dallas Executive Director and CEO Cece Cox said.

Cox called it a myth that African-Americans are not in favor of marriage equality.

“Those not in favor perpetrate that myth,” she said. “This will help dispel it.”

Cox said that the resolution was consistent with the group’s support for equality and she was glad they went on record.

Abounding Prosperity founder and CEO Kirk Myers welcomed the statement but said he wasn’t surprised.

“They’ve taken that position previously,” Myers said.

While NAACP has opposed anti-marriage amendments throughout the country, this is the first comprehensive statement the organization has made on behalf of married same-sex couples.

“We support marriage equality consistent with equal protection under the law provided under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution,” the statement read in part. In a nod to churches, the statement continues with a line of support of religious freedom ensured by the First Amendment.

“Civil marriage is a civil right and a matter of civil law,” NAACP President Benjamin Jealous said.

Myers said it was important for the country’s premiere civil rights organization to make a statement about civil marriage.

“We are the civil rights issue of the day,” he said.

The statement was issued two weeks after President Barack Obama spoke in favor of marriage equality. Myers said he thought the NAACP’s resolution was a reinforcement of that position, but not a result of it.

AIDS prevention is a major mission of Abounding Prosperity and Myers thought that the NAACP statement would help with his organization’s work.

“Black churches need to have conversations about what’s going on anyway,” he said.

NAACP President Benjamin Jealous

He said that it could help AIDS prevention efforts by lessening the stigma of testing and allowing more open conversations about prevention to take place in the black community.

Venton Jones, a former Dallas resident who now serves as communications and education manager at the National Black Gay Men’s Advocacy Coalition, called the statement an important move.

“For me and the black community, we live on the edge of race and sexuality,” he said.

He said the statement wasn’t just about marriage but about civil rights. He said that the recent vote in North Carolina showed that legislatures can take people’s rights away.

He said that having the president support marriage equality followed by the NAACP has led to members of the hip-hop community to voice their support for marriage equality.

“That makes it OK for black people to come out,” he said.

Since the president’s announcement, a number of hip-hop artists including Jay-Z, 50 Cent and T.I. have voiced their support for equality.

It gives permission for those who have moved in the direction of coming out and facilitates a new generation to be more comfortable with their sexuality, Jones said.

“It’s started some critical discussions in churches,” Jones said, including “clergy who historically have not been a part of the conversation.”

Lambda Legal Supervising Senior Staff Attorney Ken Upton said the NAACP’s statement will be very useful to his organization.

“Because it was an official resolution, we can cite it,” he said.

He said it’s important to persuade a court not just from a legal standpoint but from a cultural standpoint as well. He said that when the American Psychological Association dropped homosexuality as a disorder, that was helpful. This resolution clearly establishes LGBT issues as civil rights issues.

Equality Texas Executive Director Dennis Coleman called the resolution “a changing point in our conversation with African-Americans.”
He said that any African-American on the fence on the issue looking for the stand of others in their community can now look to former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s recent support, President Barack Obama’s statement and the NAACP resolution.

“It allows us to have conversations where we couldn’t before,” he said.

Coleman hoped to take the national statement to local NAACP chapters around the state to proactively begin new education campaigns and open new collaborations.

Counselor Candy Marcum said, “It was thrilling to read it.”

She said that the resolution validates what many already knew — that LGBT rights is a civil rights issue.

“These are the people that changed the face of America,” she said. “For them to take up our cause as theirs gives it validity and strength.”

For those struggling with coming out, the resolution adds another voice of validation.

A University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll taken in February 2012 found that a majority of Texans support relationship recognition for same-sex couples — either marriage or civil unions. Only a third said gays and lesbian couples should have no relationship recognition.

Among African-American respondents, the same percent as the population in general supported full marriage rights. But 10 percent fewer supported civil unions and 40 percent said same-sex couples should have no relationship recognition.

In the poll, the highest support for relationship recognition was among Hispanics and Asians, and black support was the lowest.

Earlier in the month, the League of United Latin American Citizens expressed its support for Obama’s pro-marriage statement.

“We have witnessed firsthand how painful it can be when LGBT partners are denied the rights and benefits of marriage,” LULAC National Executive Director Brent Wilkes wrote in a press release.

“From hospital visitation rights to spousal benefits, too many of our LGBT members have been treated unfairly and we welcome the President’s efforts to address this.”

Stonewall Democrats of Dallas President Omar Narvaez said he was excited that both LULAC and the NAACP have made “bold statements.”

Among those in the black community not happy with the NAACP’s resolution was Pastor Stephen Broden of Fair Park Bible Fellowship who ran against Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson in the 2010 election.

“The NAACP has proven again to be an irrelevant organization as it relates to issues of survival for the black community,” Broden told the Christian Post.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 25, 2012.