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NAACP and Prop 8

Amid the celebrations following last November’s election, gay rights supporters were bitterly disappointed by the success of Proposition 8 in California, which banned gay marriage in the state.  Some blamed African American voters who turned out for Barack Obama and went on to vote for Prop 8 (though others pointed out that anti-Prop 8 outreach to the black community wasn’t what it should have been). 

So it was significant last week when the NAACP joined other civil rights groups in a friend-of-the-court brief supporting a legal effort to overturn Prop 8.  The groups argued it’s a civil rights issue: a majority vote cannot be the means of denying rights to a minority. 

Karin Wang of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center cited the history of Asian immigrants in California, where majority-enacted 19th-century law presented them with race-based provisions ranging “from prohibitions against owning property and testifying in court, to targeted taxes that applied only to Chinese immigrants, to restrictions on marriage, education, and other aspects of daily life.”

American Prospect has a report on NAACP’s action, which “thrusts the NAACP into the middle of a fight that, until now, it has largely avoided, because of the risk of alienating both board-level leadership and rank-and-file members….

“For Pastor Amos Brown, the president of the San Francisco chapter of the NAACP, opposition to Prop. 8 had serious consequences. Several weeks after the election, a significant number of donors had pulled out of the local NAACP’s fundraising dinner because of his opposition to Prop 8. Brown was angry, but he wouldn’t back down from his position.

“‘We don’t live in a theocracy,’ Brown told me when I spoke with him in November. Brown, who opposes banning same-sex marriage but also says he wouldn’t perform a same-sex marriage ceremony in his church, says his dedication to civil rights and opposition to Prop. 8 come from a similar place. He recalls first seeing a picture of Emmitt Till, a youth who was lynched in 1955 for supposedly making a pass at a white woman.

“‘When I saw that picture,’ Brown says, ‘I promised God myself, never would I be mean to people who were different.'”

Kathryn Kolbert, president of People For the American Way Foundation, describes the intensive sessions on homophobia in the black church during the California NAACP’s convention in October, which leaders of PFAW’s African American Ministers Leadership Council helped organize: 

“The overflow sessions went on for hours, demonstrating that there is a real hunger for the kind of honest, rousing conversation about homophobia, discrimination, love, equality, scripture, and politics. People’s hearts were changed, even if everyone didn’t end the session ready to fully embrace marriage equality.”

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Category: African Americans, civil rights, LGBT

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