October 15, 2012 at 5:26 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
NAACP president: Md. same-sex marriage law guarantees religious freedom
Benjamin Jealous, Ben Jealous, NAACP, Washington Blade, gay news, HRC National Dinner, Human Rights Campaign

NAACP President Benjamin Jealous (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People stressed on Monday that Maryland’s same-sex marriage law guarantees religious freedom.

“We’re pleased that Question 6 is very clear: This is about civil marriage,” said Benjamin Jealous during a press conference at his organization’s Baltimore headquarters. “Question 6 goes on to be very clear that every church, every house of worship, every synagogue in the state can have faith that everything will be respected and protected not only by the U.S. Constitution but by Question 6 itself.”

Jealous, whose parents traveled from Baltimore to D.C. to get married in 1966 because Maryland did not allow interracial marriages, reaffirmed his support of Question 6 on the same day a Marylanders for Marriage Equality television ad that features NAACP Chair Emeritus Julian Bond began airing in the D.C. media market.

“I know a little something about fighting for what is right and just. Maryland’s gay and lesbian families share the same values and they should share in the right to marry,” says Bond. “I believe people of faith understand this isn’t about any one religious belief. It’s about protecting the civil right to make a lifelong commitment to the person you love. Join me in supporting Question 6. It’s the right thing to do.”

Reverend Dr. Todd Yeary of Douglass Memorial Community Church in Baltimore echoed Bond.

“I affirm the NAACP’s position that civil marriage is indeed a civil right,” he said. “This really is not a religious issue. The wording of Question 6 is very specific in accepting religious protections. All persons can honor their own personal convictions without imposing them on anyone else.”

A Gonzales Research poll last month indicates 44 percent of black Marylanders back marriage rights for same-sex couples, compared to 52 percent who oppose nuptials for gays and lesbians. A Hart Research Associates survey conducted in late July found that 44 percent of black Marylanders would support Question 6, compared to 45 percent who would vote against it. A Public Policy Polling poll in May found 55 percent of the state’s black voters support marriage rights for same-sex couples.

The NAACP Board of Directors in May passed a resolution in support of nuptials for gays and lesbians after President Obama publicly backed the issue for the first time during an interview with ABC News’ Robin Roberts. Bishop Harry Jackson of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville remains one of the most prominent opponents to Maryland’s same-sex marriage law, but the first Marylanders for Marriage Equality television ads in support of Question 6 that began airing last week on WBAL in Baltimore feature Rev. Delman Coates of Mount Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton in Prince George’s County and Rev. Donté Hickman of Southern Baptist Church in Baltimore.

Jealous acknowledged that the NAACP is concerned that same-sex marriage opponents are “duping” black Marylanders to vote against Question 6. He further cited previously confidential National Organization for Marriage documents that indicate the group sought to use the issue to divide black and LGBT voters.

NOM co-founder Maggie Gallagher said during an Oct. 9 panel on Question 6 at the historically black Morgan State University in Baltimore that she does not “believe that gay marriage is a civil rights issue.”

“The NAACP has fought for civil rights for over 103 years and we recognize civil marriage as a civil right,” said NAACP Maryland State Conference President Gerald Stansbury during today’s press conference. “When we speak of civil marriages, we speak of it in a context of a civil issue and not a religious one. We understand the difference between a civil marriage and a religious marriage.”

Maryland NAACP Youth and College President Chizoba Ukairo agreed.

“We are clear that equal access to legal marriage for same-sex couples is a basic issue of fairness and equality,” she said.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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