By MICHAEL MEYERS.
This article originally appeared in the New York Daily News.
In the same week as the 58th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education decision that outlawed segregation in public schools — the NAACP’s greatest victory — the NAACP announced its groundbreaking endorsement of gay marriage.
Leapfrogging over concerns about its mission as a black rights group and about partisanship — publicly siding with Democrat Barack Obama’s final answer on whether gays should have the right to marry — the nation’s oldest and mostly black civil rights group invoked the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause, the same clause the high court used to ban racial discrimination.
The ensuing headlines were bold, suggesting the NAACP was championing a comparable cause.
I support marriage equality. And the equal protection clause, I know, has been elastic enough to aid others’ push for fairness. But unlike the NAACP, I don’t see same-sex marriage as a priority issue for an organization whose mission is seeking the elimination of skin color discrimination and combatting media images and societal stereotypes of blacks.
This has long been the NAACP’s focus, just like the ADL’s is on confronting and challenging anti-Semitism, and like GLAAD’s is on contesting bias against gays. School segregation, housing discrimination, illiteracy, crime, police misconduct, teenage pregnancy rates, voting rights, drug abuse, overincarceration of blacks and the disparate impact of capital punishment — these are the civil rights concerns of the NAACP. Its name bespeaks its core agenda.
The advocacy and achievement of blacks’ equality has never before been linked to gay marriage rights. Though obviously a person can be both gay and black, there’s no particular nexus between being gay and being black.
So is the NAACP arguing that discrimination against anyone is now officially a concern of the organization? Italians and Asians and Christians and Muslims frequently claim to have been discriminated against. Where is the NAACP’s statement in favor of Italians’ and Asians’ and Christians’ and Muslims’ right to equal treatment before the law?
I would’ve loved to have heard a real debate about whether the NAACP should take this turn into gay rights at the organization’s annual convention next month; the debate would’ve been sharp and enlightening. But the NAACP’s 64-member board short-circuited that possibility by voting on this major policy change without hearing from the rank and file — this despite claims that the annual convention is the citadel of democratic governance.
Those inside the NAACP leadership bubble are congratulating themselves. According to board Chairman Rosyln Brock, “The mission of the NAACP has always been to ensure the political, social and economic equality of all people.” Not true; the NAACP’s constitution calls for the NAACP to “ensure the political, educational, social and economic equality of minority group citizens” — adding by means aimed at “eliminating race prejudice” and “removing all barriers of racial discrimination.”
Maybe it’s time for the NAACP to formally change its name and call letters to indicate the advancement of everybody’s equal rights, regardless of their race, gender or sexual orientation. I might and could support that — but, the NAACP’s current bylaws do not say that, do not mean that and do not give its board of 64 license to commit its resources elsewhere than the fight against racial discrimination.
Its core mission is to combat racial prejudice. There is plenty of work to be done on that front.
Meyers is executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition and a former assistant national director of the NAACP.