LOS ANGELES — In a move that some called historic, the country’s oldest black civil rights group voted Saturday to endorse same-sex marriage.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People passed a resolution supporting gay marriage at a meeting of its board of directors in Miami, saying it opposed any policy or legislative initiative that “seeks to codify discrimination or hatred into the law or to remove the constitutional rights of LGBT citizens.”
Directors of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force erupted in applause at their board meeting Saturday as their phones buzzed with the news.
“Today is a historic day,” Rea Carey, executive director of the task force, said. “This is what leadership looks like in this country.”
The vote marks a national turning point on the issue of gay marriage. President Barack Obama announced this month that he supports gay marriage. A Gallup Poll last year found, for the first time in the poll’s history, that a majority of Americans supported the legalization of gay marriage, 53 percent to 45 percent. This year, the poll showed 50 percent supported it, while 48 percent opposed it.
“Civil marriage is a civil right and a matter of civil law,” Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the 103-year-old NAACP said in a statement.
“The NAACP’s support for marriage equality is deeply rooted in the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution and equal protection of all people.”
Still, it may be a long time before the entire community joins in support.
Many blacks oppose same-sex marriage, viewing it as a religious matter, not a civil rights issue.
Last October, a Pew Forum poll found that 62 percent of black Protestants opposed gay marriage.
In Maryland, activists have been appealing to blacks to support an initiative to overturn a gay marriage bill.
In California, support from blacks was widely seen as a major factor contributing to the passage of Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in 2008. A Los Angeles Times poll in 2009 found that 54 percent of black voters in California opposed same-sex unions and 37 percent supported them.
Some observers said the NAACP’s endorsement had public health, as well as political, ramifications.
“I think there has been a contradiction with the crisis of HIV/AIDS. On one hand we were urging people to settle down with a single partner and live a healthier and safer lifestyle but not recognizing the union,” said Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.
Carey said the task force and the NAACP have partnered to press other civil rights issues, but “what is important here is that we’re at a particular moment in our country where important organizations and important people are standing up and saying, ‘Clearly, equality is right.’”