Commentary: Is Marriage Equality the New Black?

The NAACP’s endorsement of same-sex marriage raises questions about what the future of the Black civil rights movement will look like. 

Posted: 05/21/2012 05:33 PM EDT

(Photos from left: National Archive/Newsmakers, Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Are gays and African-Americans fighting for the same fight? It’s a debate that’s been waging for years, and it appears that some are seeking a resolution. Still, one question continues to linger: Should the two groups come together to call attention to injustice wherever it may be found or are they stronger and more focused as separate, individual movements?

 

The NAACP has taken a stand, announcing the following resolution in support of marriage equality: “The NAACP Constitution affirmatively states our objective to ensure the political, education, 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.”

 

It’s an uncomfortable conversation among many in the Black community to say the least as it touches on longstanding philosophical questions that remain unresolved. 

 

There are some who believe that discrimination against anyone should not be tolerated in this country and in that respect, civil rights should be extended to all, regardless of race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.

 

Roslyn Brock, Chair of the NAACP’s Board of Directors, is among them.  In a statement released to reporters, she explained why the nation’s leading civil rights organization would stand behind an effort like marriage equality. She said, "We have always stood against laws which demean, dehumanize, or discriminate against any person in this great country. That is our legacy.” 

 

It is apparent that the group, which even has the “advancement of colored people” in its name, is no longer beholden to the idea that the Black civil rights struggle is its singular focus.

 

But there are some who see the Black civil rights movement and the gay rights movement as inherently different. They are unwilling to equate the struggles of the civil rights movement with the struggles of the gay rights movement. Because some view homosexuality as a behavior tied to a person’s sex life, they refuse to see the fight against discrimination and bigotry as common ground and opportunity to coalesce.

 

So while we are still at the beginning of what appears to be a shift among progressive civil rights groups in the wake of President Obama’s new pro-marriage equality stance, it appears that the tide is changing. If civil rights groups steadily march toward a position of inclusion for all, there are still legitimate questions about whether the plight of African-Americans will be strengthened or diluted in the process.

 

Renowned civil rights pioneer Ella Baker once said, “Remember, we are not fighting for the freedom of the Negro alone, but for the freedom of the human spirit, a larger freedom that encompasses all mankind.”

Although Baker was born at the turn of the 20th century, her words were ahead of their time.

 

Decades later, African-Americans are facing a turning point as we watch the civil rights movement expand to include the plight of other groups forced to live life in the margins of society.

 

 

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