Leaders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People urged Maryland voters Monday to cast ballots in favor of same-sex marriage, saying it is a civil rights issue, not a theological one.
Benjamin Jealous, national president the organization, drew on the history of civil rights, and that of his own family, to make the case for marriage equality.
"This is a question of what side of history do you want to be on," he said. He referred to the marriage of his parents, an inter-racial couple. "My parents were married in 1966 in Washington, D.C. They were married in D.C. because it was against the law for them to be married here in this great state," Jealous said.
"I don't know anyone — and I've met a few — who stood for the anti-miscegenation laws back then who today believes that they were on the right side," he said.
Voters will decide in the Nov. 6 election whether to uphold a new state law that would legalize same-sex marriage in Maryland. The votes of African-Americans are expected to be important in determining the law's fate at the polls.
While the NAACP has waged a campaign in its favor, some pastors at black churches have urged no votes from the pulpit, saying marriage should continue to be defined as the union of a man and a woman.
The Maryland Marriage Alliance, which opposes same-sex marriage, did not respond to a request for comment Monday.
Jealous spoke alongside Gerald Stansbury, president of the Maryland NAACP, and Tessa Hill-Aston the president of its Baltimore branch, during a news conference at the organization's headquarters in Northwest Baltimore.
The civil rights group's board of directors voted to support same-sex marriage in May.
The speakers Monday sought to deflect religious arguments, asking voters instead to see a distinction between public and religious life. Stansbury said the law protects the rights of churches by not forcing them to hold same-sex weddings.
Earlier Monday, the Human Rights Campaign, a gay-rights organization, announced it would spend an additional $300,000 to advocate for the Maryland ballot measure, and Republican hedge fund manager Paul Singer announced a $250,000 contribution in support of the law.
The donations will stretch further the wide financial lead that supporters of same sex marriage have. Disclosures filed last week show supporters of the measure had raised $3.2 million and opponents $838,000.