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The Obama Effect: From the NAACP to 50 Cent, Black Leaders Back Gay Marriage

The Obama Effect: From the NAACP to 50 Cent, Black Leaders Back Gay Marriage
Pete Souza/The White House

It's fair to call it the Obama Effect: leaders in the black community, old and young, political and cultural, are coming out of the closet to back same-sex marriage. And they are a motley crew, from the legacy NAACP, to the rapper 50 Cent, who just a couple years ago suggested that if you're a man "and you don't eat pu**y just kill yourself damn it. The world will be a better place." (He'd also once tweeted, "Perez Hilton calld me douchebag [sic] so I had my homie shoot up a gay wedding. wasnt his but still made me feel better.")

And now 50 tacitly supports gays getting married.

The Obama Effect.

To hear Touré and no lack of pundits, black and white, put it, this would have been inconceivable less than two weeks ago. They were convinced that, because black support for same-sex marriage is less than that of whites, this was political suicide for Obama. (They conveniently ignored the fact that the black-white difference is dwarfed by the generational difference, and the idea that blacks caused the passage of Prop 8 has largely been debunked for the hooey which it is. )

We predicted the panic was ridiculous. As we pointed out, the vast majority of prominent black political leaders in America, the day Obama "evolved," were already with him on same-sex marriage equality: Deval Patrick, the nation's only black governor; mayors Michael Nutter, Cory Booker, and Adrian Fenty; and a good chunk of the Congressional Black Caucus, including chair Emanuel Cleaver, longest serving member John Conyers, and civil rights icon John Lewis.

If almost every other prominent black politician in the nation had taken this stand, without backlash from their black constituents, why would the nation's first black president be the one to take the hit?

He hasn't.

As one reader commented on our story on Touré,"President Obama is an opinion leader in the African American community. And not just any opinion leader, but a profoundly influential one."

The diversity of voices who have responded to Obama's leadership on this issue is startling. At one end of the spectrum, you have the NAACP's board passing the following historic resolution:

The NAACP Constitution affirmatively states our objective to ensure the "political, educational, social and economic equality" of all people. Therefore, the NAACP has opposed and will continue to oppose any national, state, local policy or legislative initiative that seeks to codify discrimination or hatred into the law or to remove the Constitutional rights of LGBT citizens. We support marriage equality consistent with equal protection under the law provided under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Further, we strongly affirm the religious freedoms of all people as protected by the First Amendment.

Wait a second, this is the NAACP? The paragon of old-school civil rights issues? The body largely made up of older, church going, socially conservative black people, some who fought in the civil rights struggles of the 50s and 60s? Touré wrote that usually he finds "linking the gay rights struggle with the battle for racial justice in any way tends to elicit angry responses from many black people. Many show no empathy for gays as another legally oppressed minority and have no desire to see any similarity between the two historically oppressed identity groups." Similarly, Ruben Diaz, Sr. and NOM have tried to create a false wedge between blacks and church going, civil rights fighting blacks.

And yet, here's the most venerable, century old black rights group of them all -- the same organization which argued Brown v. The Board of Education, and which formed Thurgood Marshall, the first black Supreme Court Justice -- arguing not just unequivocally for same-sex marriage, but doing so under the premise that LGBT Americans are entitled to the same protections offered under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution as blacks have been guaranteed since leaving slavery after the Civil War.

The Obama Effect.

But it doesn't stop in the political realm. Jay-Z, one half of arguably the most powerful black couple in American entertainment presently, said being against same-sex marriage is "discrimination, plain and simple." Will Smith, once half of the last most powerful black entertainment couple, also said he supports marriage equality. And, even though rap has not historically been an art form known for is warm embrace of homosexuals, 50 Cent (crudely) changed his tune a fair amount, while even Jamaican reggae star Beanie Man, known for violently homophobic screeds in the past, took to YouTube to ask for forgiveness and say he now believes in gay rights.

The Obama Effect.

In the summer of 2012, black America will see their youngest generation, the black Attorney General, the black American president, the nation's only black governor, the oldest black civil rights group in the nation, the star of Men In Black III, and leading stars of rap, hip hop and reggae proclaiming increased rights for gay Americans.

Black public opinion, inevitably, will follow.

Much as Barack Obama looked alone when he was tossing the football in the above poto at Soldier Field during the NATO summit this weekend, he appeared alone when he was put on the spot on May 9 and asked, directly, how he personally felt about same-sex marriage.

He was alone in that moment, and he answered for himself. But he wasn't alone in the arc of history. His ability to say those words in support of same-sex rights, and his ability to occupy that office, depended upon centuries of people, black and white, gay and straight, who'd come before him, including not just Martin Luther King but Bayard Rustin, too.

And going forward, it looks like in tossing out his support for gay marriage, Obama's evolution is leading Team Black America down the field towards liberty and justice for all.

@steven_thrasher | sthrasher@villagevoice.com


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