Is Benjamin Jealous Trying to Push the NAACP to Support Gay Marriage? Or Just Letting the Chips Fall?

Julian Bond, the awesome NAACP chairman who is stepping down to make room for Roslyn Brock, is not the final say for the organization. He’s a liaison. So the real strategizing falls to president Benjamin Todd Jealous, who continues to gloss over any commitment to gay black Americans’ right to marry the people they love.

In a new Big Think interview, Jealous makes some good points about the NAACP’s involvement on gay issues. Uganda, ENDA, the Matthew Shepard Act. Great stuff.

But he continues pointing to the unavoidable but unfortunate reality that his group’s base is very religious, which is why he refuses to push the NAACP to officially support same-sex marriage. Worth noting: Jealous himself supports it. His brother is gay, and HIV positive, and he says he’s a big supporter of his.

“So, we had been involved, you know, gay people have been involved in the NAACP for a long time,” says Jealous. “The NAACP has been supportive of a broad civil human rights agenda in this country, including rights for gay and lesbian people, for a long time and many of our most outspoken leaders are very outspoken on the issue of marriage equality and many are outspoken against it. And like any other democratic organization, trade union, what have you, it’s being worked through. And the way that one side wins or the other is that they decide that they want the membership of the NAACP to be supportive of this one particular part of the agenda more than the other side does. And right now it seems to be a bit of a toss-up.”

This follows what Jealous has said previously: “If gay rights groups want to change the opinion polls in the black community, they have to invest in it. It’s a long-term conversation. The battle to oppose Prop 8 could have been much better run. They came to the black community late, with the expectation that they were going to get certain results.”

Fair enough. But like any democratic organization, there is leadership. Mr. Jealous is the NAACP’s leader. And he should be working to show how the NAACP’s base, no matter how religious, that they should — and must — support marriage equality not just because it is the right thing to do for the gay community, but because it’s the right thing to do for the black community. As if it’s possible to separate the two.

For the same reason gay activist leaders, like the Human Rights Campaign’s Joe Solmonese, should not “wait” for the black community to come to him to support its agenda. We’re all in this together, kids.

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