Marriage Equality Campaigns Highlight Support from African-American Leaders

In the past few days, the New York TImes and the Baltimore Sun have published editorials highlighting campaigns focused on support for marriage equality among African Americans.

Both articles discuss the unsuccessful campaigns for marriage equality in both California and Maryland and the role opposition from Black Christian leaders may have played in these losses.  Both also highlight new media campaigns showcasing Black leaders affirming their support for marriage equality.

The first campaign is a national effort by the Human Rights Campaign called Americans for Marriage Equality.  It features video testimonies from Julian Bond, Chairman Emeritus of the NAACP, Cory Booker, Mayor of Newark, N.J., and Mo’Nique, Oscar-award winning actress, all of whom emphasize that supporting marriage equality is about supporting universal values of love, family and commitment.

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The second campaign focuses on the movement for marriage equality in Maryland.  Marylanders for Marriage Equality has released a series of videos featuring Black leaders, including the videos of Julian Bond and Mo’Nique, and adding ones of a Baltimore Ravens linebacker and of Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley.  O’Malley was not publicly involved in the 2011 campaign to pass marriage equality in the state, but he has pledged to sponsor the bill in 2012.

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These efforts build on the work of organizations like the National Black Justice Coalition, a civil rights organization working at the intersection of race and sexual orientation.  Since 2003, NBJC has advocated for the unique challenges and needs of the African American LGBT community, focusing on policy advocacy and on strengthening Black families and communities by bridging the gaps between straight and LGBT people.  Their executive director, Sharon Lettman-Hicks, is a straight African American ally who has been vocal about her support of marriage equality for all loving and committed couples.

Other African American leaders and organizations are now stepping up to pledge their support for equality and name themselves as allies to the LGBT community.  Ben Jealous, the CEO of the NAACP, will be the keynote speaker for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s Creating Change 2012 Conference in Baltimore, Md. Under Jealous’ leadership, the NAACP launched its LGBT Equality Task Force in 2009, a partnership with the National Black Justice Coalition. Jealous speaks of his gay sibling as "the person closest to me in the world."