Published: January 28, 2012
Updated: January 28, 2012 – 1:26 PM
The largest annual gathering of left-leaning and civil rights groups in North Carolina will have as one of its main goals the opposition to a proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, organizers said Saturday. That effort could be a test of how much influence they wield among traditionally Democratic voters with socially conservative views.
At a news conference organized by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Durham, leaders including the civil rights group’s national president said the gay marriage vote joins a long list of concerns and causes ranging from poverty to the state budget. North Carolina’s position as a swing state and the site of the Democratic Party’s presidential nominating convention makes it a uniquely high-profile location for a showdown on those issues.
“So goes North Carolina, so goes this nation,” said NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous, who said the annual “Historic Thousands on Jones Street” rally is the only state-level event he makes it a point to attend every year. “And if we at the NAACP are committed to anything, it’s pushing America closer to her ideals.”
This year’s event, scheduled for Feb. 11 in Raleigh, will add to the list of issues the coalition behind the rally has focused on for years: opposition to a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
That amendment, which will be on the May 8 primary ballot, is a potential wild card in state politics. Gay marriage is already prohibited by statute in North Carolina, but the state is the only one in the southeast without a constitutional amendment prohibiting such unions. North Carolina has a huge population of evangelical Christians, who tend to oppose gay marriage. But it also has a significant population of younger voters, who are generally more supportive of gay unions. And the state’s electoral votes were won by President Barack Obama in 2008, showing the strength of such voters.
One of the main questions for the primary is how black voters will respond. Overwhelmingly Democratic in terms of party affiliation, black voters also tend to be more conservative on social issues. By throwing its weight against the amendment, the state’s largest and most prominent civil rights organization – whose leadership is studded with Christian pastors – hopes it can sway those voters.
“It’s a dangerous precedent when you allow a majority to vote on the rights of a minority,” said the Rev. William Barber, president of the state NAACP and the pastor of a Goldsboro church.
Barber was careful to distinguish between the question of same-sex marriage itself and the proposed amendment. The latter, he argued, should be viewed through the state’s long history of racial discrimination.
“They’re trying to give people, based on their sexuality, second- or third-class citizenship,” he said. “We in the NAACP know what that looks like.”
But Barber and the NAACP leadership are out of step with most black voters on the issue, said Kevin Daniels, president of the state chapter of the Frederick Douglass Foundation, a black conservative group that opposes gay marriage.
“When you have pastors that are leaders of civil rights organizations and you have them taking a stance against this marriage amendment, that’s going to have influence on people, but not enough to defeat the amendment,” he said.
Most black voters, Daniels believes, ultimately see the issue in terms of personal morality rather than politics.
“The pastors who are out there opposing this amendment, it has nothing to do with their spiritual beliefs,” he said. “They’re making this issue Democrat versus Republican or liberal versus conservative, so the spiritual or moral aspect is being thrown out.”