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NAACP chief: Marriage equality is a civil right

NAACP President Benjamin Jealous said Monday he hopes the group’s resolution supporting same-sex marriage will encourage blacks to support civil marriage equality as a civil right if the question is put to voters on the ballot in Maryland or other states.

Benjamin Jealous, president of the NAACP, noted that his white father and black mother were not allowed to marry in Maryland in 1966.

The civil rights group’s resolution was significant, as only 39 percent of blacks favor gay marriage, compared with 47 percent of white Americans, according to a Pew poll conducted in April. Much of the opposition stems from churches, which have long been important institutions in the black community.

“I hope this will be a game-changer,” Jealous told The Associated Press in an interview. “There is a game being played right now to enshrine discrimination into state constitutions across the country, and if we can change that game and help ensure that our country’s more recent tradition of using federal and state constitutions to expand rights continues, we will be very proud of our work.”

Jealous spoke about the resolution, which was approved by the organization’s board of directors on Saturday, at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People headquarters in Baltimore. The resolution was approved about two weeks after President Barack Obama announced his support for gay marriage.

Jealous appeared with Roslyn Brock, who chairs the NAACP board of directors, and three other board members, Bishop William Graves of Memphis, Tenn., Richard Womack of Washington and Donald Cash of Columbia.

Jealous struggled to speak while recalling how his white father and black mother confronted marriage laws that forced them to marry in Washington, D.C., in 1966 because interracial marriage was illegal in Maryland and his mother’s hometown of Baltimore until 1967. Jealous noted that the civil rights organization has opposed laws barring gay marriage in the past.

“What has changed is that this is the first time that we have made a full statement on marriage equality that goes beyond the circumstances of any one proposed law or any one state,” Jealous said.

Brock emphasized that the resolution focused on marriage equality in the eyes of government, not religion.

“As the nation’s leading and oldest civil rights organization, it is not our role, nor our intent, to express how any place of worship should act in its own house,” Brock said.

Same-sex marriage is legal in six states and the District of Columbia, but 31 states have passed amendments to ban it in their constitutions. Maryland lawmakers passed a same-sex marriage measure this year. However, it does not take effect until January, and opponents are working to petition the law to the ballot for voters to decide in November.