Remarks from NAACP Press Conference on Marriage Equality

NAACP leaders including Chairman Roslyn M. Brock and President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous held a press conference on Ma21st to discuss the decision by the National NAACP Board of Directors to support marriage equality. Their remarks are reproduced below: 

Remarks by Roslyn M. Brock, Chairman of the NAACP Board of Directors

As you now know, on Saturday, May 19th, our Board passed a resolution in support of marriage equality.

The NAACP is an historic organization which 103 years ago set on a path to ensure the political, educational, social and economic equality of all people.  As Board members, we take the responsibility to guide this organization seriously.  One of the crucial roles we play is to ensure that our mission which helped define America in the last century continues to be implemented in this our Association’s second century.

When people ask why the NAACP stands firmly for marriage equality, we say that we have always stood against laws which demean, dehumanize, or discriminate against any person in this great country.  That is our legacy.  For over 103 years we have stood against such laws, and while the nature of the struggle may change, our bedrock commitment to equality of all people under the law never will.

One of the NAACP’s greatest leaders, Ella Baker, described this when she said and I quote: “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.”  End quote.

We live in a democracy.  And in our democracy we have the benefit of a Constitution which defines the equal rights which we all share and to which we as a nation aspire.  Because the text of our Constitution is so beautiful, let me share just a few simple clear words of the Fourteenth Amendment which says in part that no state “shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”  Marriage Equality is just that, the right to be treated equally in the eyes of the government.

The NAACP did not issue its support of marriage equality from a personal, moral, or religious perspective. Rather, we deeply respect differences of personal conscience on the religious definition of marriage, and we strongly affirm the religious freedoms of all as protected by the First Amendment. 

As the nation’s leading civil rights organization, it is not our role or intent to express how any place of worship should act in its own house.  We have not done so in the past and will not do so In the future. This history and commitment to separation of church and state continues as we stand for equality — marriage equality – under the law.

Thank you.

 Remarks by Benjamin Todd Jealous, President and CEO of the NAACP

As some of you may know, the NAACP has opposed proposed anti-marriage equality laws on a number of occasions.  This effort has been led by State Conferences in places like North Carolina and California.  Indeed, I would like to highlight the leadership that State Conference Presidents like Rev. William Barber in North Carolina and Alice Huffman in California – both states where the NAACP opposed Ballot Initiatives meant to prohibit marriage equality.  As a national Association we also opposed the Defense of Marriage Act as far back as the mid-1990s.

So what has really changed and why this statement now?

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

Marriage equality for the NAACP goes at least as far back as the Supreme Court case of Loving v. Virginia in 1967.  In the year before she died, Mildred Loving, who successfully sued to end legally sanctioned marriage inequality based on race, wrote a powerful piece which ended – and I quote:

I am proud that Richard’s and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life.  I support the freedom to marry for all.  That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.

We make this statement today because it is the legacy and responsibility of the NAACP to speak up on the civil rights issues of our times.  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.

As marriage equality has expanded to an ever increasing number of states, other states have taken to once again enshrining discrimination in their Constitutions.  At the same time, Members of Congress have taken again to using budget votes and other tricks to restrict marriage equality.

We want to be on record that the NAACP now firmly opposes all efforts to restrict marriage equality.  We will oppose threats to the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of equal rights under the law in any state where this issue is raised.

And we will follow our historic mission to ensure the political, educational, social and economic equality of all persons.  This means that we will oppose all efforts by Members of Congress or any Administration to enshrine discrimination in the laws of our great country.

Finally, let me say that this is one of the key civil rights struggles of our time.  We at the NAACP understand that with all such struggles, there are conversations that happen at dinner tables, among families, and across our communities.  These conversations are between good people who are looking to their own hearts to figure out what to believe and how to act.  We respect that this is how change is ultimately made.  Indeed it is the context in which the NAACP has fought for civil rights throughout our history.

Civil marriage, like all civil rights provided by the government, must be provided equally to all Americans.  The NAACP has been making the case for equality for 103 years, and we will continue to do so throughout our Association’s second century.

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