When leaders lead, especially on difficult social issues that demand the end of an injustice or the expansion of liberty, people will follow. The announcement Saturday that the NAACP passed a resolution supporting marriage equality is the most important sign yet that President Obama’s public support of it had the power to change hearts and minds.
The NAACP is the nation’s leading civil rights organizations. Its role in fighting for and securing changes in laws and customs that gave African Americans a more equal shot at achieving the American dream is well-established. But while individual leaders have spoken out in favor of allowing gays to wed, most notably chairman emeritus Julian Bond, the organization hadn’t spoken with one voice — until now.
And as remarkable as the resolution is, what’s equally noteworthy is the vote. Of the 64 members of the board, only two voted against it. According to the New York Times, Bond said that Obama’s May 9 announcement “was ‘a tipping point’ for many of the board members.” Turns out it was a tipping point for many African Americans, as well.
Rev. Jesse Jackson touted his newfound support for same-sex marriage to culture writer Toure’. House Assistant Democratic Leader Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) did the same with NBC’s Chuck Todd. A Post-ABC News poll released last week showed that 54 percent of blacks supported the president’s position on same-sex marriage.
Even my own mother, a staunch Obama supporter and a born-again Christian who has a conservative view of marriage, was moved by Obama’s words. She called it “cruel” to deny same-sex couples the rights and responsibilities that accrue to marriage. Sure, there are African Americans who are angry with Obama for what he did. But my mother’s reaction is one of the reasons why I was, and remain, supremely confident that losing the black vote would be the least of the president’s political concerns.
Politics certainly played a role in how Obama’s “evolved” thinking on same-sex marriage was announced. But his change of heart was guided by a concern about fairness and equity for the same-sex couples who want to marry and for the children they are raising. His words paved the way for the NAACP and others to follow in his footsteps, to see that what links the traditional civil rights movement and the gay rights movement is the shared struggle for equality, dignity and equal protection under the law.