While NAACP chairman Julian Bond managed to give a speech on gay equality that was arguably more moving than any gay leader has ever given, the black civil rights organization has no official position on same-sex marriage. As NAACP president Benjamin Todd Jealous tells it, they don’t have a national stance on letting gays get married because there is not yet a consensus inside the org. Yes, they are pro-hate crimes legislation for gays. Yes, they are against bullying in schools that targets gay kids. And yes, they are against laws banning same-sex marriage, like Prop 8. But the “tense debate” over fully supporting our right to marry remains unresolved. This is problematic.
As Jealous tells it, he would rather keep the NAACP together as an agreeable unit than divide followers by taking a stance on marriage equality. The organization is more effective, he says, when it can act in unison with all its moving parts. This premise, of course, depends on what your definition of “effective” is.
To many gays — black, white, whatever — standing on the right side of equality is the only way to be effective. Not declaring your position is tantamount to tolerating discrimination. The NAACP cannot effectively criticize those who approve of keeping gays as second-class without taking an official stand. It’s an exercise in logic fucking to consider a civil rights organization — founded for the singular purpose of demanding and spreading equality — that refuses to, well, demand and spread other types of equality.
The issue of same-sex marriage is too decisive, insists Jealous. But is letting people of various religions practice their faiths openly too controversial to support? How about letting a black woman and a white man wed? Of course not. These issues have been resolved; they are no longer controversial moral issues. But while we complain about Gay Inc. moving too slowly, here we have Black Inc. waddling toward one of the last remaining equality stands — instead of leading the pack and declaring equality is paramount, especially in the face of internal squabbling.
It is exactly this passivity that helps drive divide inside black civil rights camps. Where civil rights leaders and the black church and inextricably tied, the issue becomes even more contentious. (It also explains why some black churches are simply exiting the business of marriage altogether.) We understand Jealous’ argument: Some very powerful black leaders do not support same-sex marriage, and to go on record as defying their conservative beliefs will generate hostility inside the NAACP. But since when has placating those who actively endorse discrimination been a tenet of his organization?
The NAACP has an opportunity to once again lead — or at least be at the forefront of — the battle for equal rights. Now more than ever, we need the support of other minority communities on our side. But Jealous and the NAACP refuse to take a stand on what, to many, is an obvious choice: equality for all is the only option.