Even as the NAACP engages in a tense debate over same-sex marriage, the group’s leaders have begun reaching out more forcefully to gay rights groups.
The outreach has been steered by former chairman Julian Bond and the group’s president, Benjamin Jealous. Both men are supporters of same-sex marriage rights, though the NAACP’s national board has taken no stance on the issue.
Jealous, who is helping to lead a march for jobs and justice in Washington next month, will be in New York on Wednesday night to encourage members of the city’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center to attend the rally.
"The NAACP is opposed to discrimination in all its forms," Jealous said in an e-mail, adding, "We recognize that many of our members are also members of the LGBT community, and just as the LGBT community counts on us to stand with it for basic civil rights protections, so we count on the LGBT community to stand with us in our unified struggle for the broader civil rights agenda."
Bond, who spoke at the National March for Equality organized by gay rights groups last fall, has compared the push for same-sex marriage to the civil rights movement of the 1960s, which he helped lead. Bond also testified before the Senate last year in support of a law that would have barred the government from discriminating against gays in its distribution of family reunification visas.
Other members of the NAACP, which has long had strong ties to the African American religious community, have resisted supporting same-sex marriage and, more broadly, gay rights. The Rev. Keith Ratliff Sr., national NAACP board member and state president for Iowa and Nebraska, has been a critic of same-sex marriage. He has called on Iowa lawmakers to begin the process of amending the Constitution to restrict marriage to between a man and a woman.
As a whole, African Americans are much more likely to think that homosexuality is morally wrong (64 percent) than are whites (48 percent) or Hispanics (43 percent), according to a 2009 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. In Washington, black pastors helped lead a push against a same-sex-marriage bill that nevertheless became law.
At its convention last year, the NAACP formed a gay rights equality task force to provide research on issues such as hate crimes against gays, school bullying and HIV/AIDS. Jealous has also said that the group’s leaders are continuing to debate the issue of same-sex marriage and that such debates can span years before a consensus is formed.
In the meantime, he has sought to bring gay rights groups into the coalition of groups that will rally on the Mall in October. AIDS Walk Washington will fold its supporters into the event, and Jealous hopes to attract gay rights proponents, union members and politically liberal minorities to the rally.
More than 200 liberal and civil rights groups are behind the "One Nation" event, which organizers hope will revive themes that energized the progressive grass-roots base two years ago. LGBT groups have not always been in that mix, said Jeffery Campagna, a gay rights activist who is helping with logistics for the rally. More than 20 LGBT groups have signed on.
"It’s a turning point," Campagna said. "This is a huge coalition of groups that don’t always sit at the same table, but it is groups that come together around common ideals. What has impressed me about this coalition is that it has actively reached out to the LGBT community."