I was surprised by the timing of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's recent announcement clarifying its stance on marriage equality: Specifically, that the organization supports gay marriage and will count itself on the side of those who want it legalized.

I say I was surprised by the timing, because I wasn"t surprised by the fact they did it. The NAACP is the oldest, the largest, the mightiest civil rights group in the country. A century-old boat doesn"t usually corner too gracefully, and I expected it to take longer.

There is, for me, an uncomfortable implication in every article that talks about African American acceptance of gay marriage, even, inescapably, my own. Black Americans are more likely to be churchgoing, some writers are insinuating, and are more likely to reject same-sex union, even as national polls plainly show that a clear majority of everybody either wants it to be legalized or can"t be bothered to care if it is.

That's the perception, and I wanted to see if it was the case here. In other places, it appears to have been turned completely on its head, albeit after the most impressive public opinion campaign I"ve ever seen.

The Rev. Colleen Bennett-Houston, an assistant pastor at City of Refuge Ministries in Bloomington, where her son leads the congregation, was kind enough to speak to me as a member of the faith community. The church she helps to lead has a predominantly black congregation, so the natural question I asked was "Does this NAACP announcement present a conflict?"

A dilemma, perhaps, she said. As a Christian, she said she opposes gay marriage, but she said other black Americans, particularly younger generations, may feel differently.

"It's on this issue, a controversial issue, where we part ways (with the NAACP)," Bennett-Houston said, pointing out the wide range of other civil rights issues her congregation and the NAACP see eye to eye on, including combating hate crimes against all minorities, including gays and lesbians.

It didn"t make it into the story, but she stressed that she believes homosexuality is a sin, a statement that raises some people's hackles. But, she said, it's a sin like any other. In that sense, she's essentially arguing that she disapproves of lying or adultery equally. Yet, she said, her congregation would not turn away people who had done these things. A congregation that did so, one reasons, would have sparse membership.

The secular question is resolving itself quickly and all over the country. As churches react to President Barack Obama's (somewhat hesitant) endorsement of gay marriage, the NAACP and yes, Colin Powell's affirmations of it are showing that there's increasingly less to be afraid of for taking this stance. That makes the move on the President's part somewhat less brave than some make it out to be, but it also signals that the larger ideological fight is pretty much already over. By 2016, I'm sure we"ll have found the next wedge issue that societal mores at large will decide irrespective of all the legislative demagoguery. Hopefully the next one won't make some people's happiness a political football.

I nominate dog breeding. Seriously, look into it, it's inhuman.


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