NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous
NAACP Marriage Equality Endorsement Opens Rifts

By Julie Bolcer

Originally published on Advocate.com July 13 2012 8:43 AM ET

The marriage equality endorsement from the NAACP has sparked hot internal debate and prompted some religious conservative leaders to leave the organization, according to Reuters.

“A few local chapter leaders -- and the Reverend Keith Ratliff of the NAACP national board -- resigned because of the resolution, which passed 10 days after President Barack Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage,” reported the news agency.

The NAACP board of directors called its endorsement in May "a continuation of its historic commitment to equal protection under the law.”

“Civil marriage is a civil right and a matter of civil law. The NAACP’s support for marriage equality is deeply rooted in the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution and equal protection of all people,” Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the organization, said at the time.

Differences in opinion were on display this past week in Houston, where the nation’s oldest civil rights organization hosted its annual convention. When presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney spoke to attendees on Wednesday and pledged to “defend traditional marriage,” some applause could be heard from the audience.

Following the speech, NAACP chairman Roslyn M. Brock issued a clear rebuttal to Romney’s position. She said in a statement that “much of his agenda is at odds with what the NAACP stands for – whether the issue is equal access to affordable health care, reforming our education system or the path forward on marriage equality.”

According to Reuters, the resolution has stirred a level of debate not seen since the NAACP passed a resolution in 2010 calling on Tea Party groups to reject racist stances. Ratliff, the national board member who resigned, has previously charged that gay rights advocates were “hijacking the civil rights movement.”

“The Reverend James Nash, pastor of St. Paul's Missionary Baptist Church in Houston, said he disagreed with the resolution and that many people in his congregation called him to say they were outraged about the stance taken by both the NAACP and Obama,” reported the agency.

President Obama did not address the NAACP in person but instead issued a video message Thursday. The same day, Vice President Joseph Biden to the group on and received a substantially warmer reception than Romney, who elicited jeers with his pledge to eliminate “Obamacare” and his assertion that he, not Obama, would be the president who “will make things better in the African-American community.”

Despite the debate within the NAACP, polling shows a surge in marriage equality support among African-American voters in the past two months. A Washington Post-ABC News in May two weeks after the president’s announcement survey found 59% of African Americans in support, higher than the general population at 53%.

The marriage equality referendum in Maryland this November will offer a crucial test of African-American support. African-Americans make up around 30% of voters in the state, where the NAACP is based. A Public Policy Polling survey from May showed that 55% of African-American voters supported marriage equality compared to 36% opposed, a near-reversal of the numbers since March.