Marriage is a civil rights issue

President Obama’s announcement that he believes same-sex couples should be allowed to marry will not – and should not — hurt him among black and Latino voters.

There are political factions seeking to exploit fear of America’s growing diversity, factions whose only hope of success is to pit groups of Americans against each other. A series of internal memos from the conservative National Organization for Marriage reveals this cynical ploy.

“The strategic goal of this project is to drive a wedge between gays and blacks — two key Democratic constituencies,” one memo states. Another discusses recruiting “glamorous” Latino artists and entertainers in order to make heterosexual-only marriage “a key badge of Latino identity.” (The memos were obtained by the Human Rights Campaign during a court proceeding and released in March.)

But voters of color are too smart to fall for these cheap, divide-and-conquer strategies.

Look at the political forces leading the charge against same-sex marriage.

Look at the forces seeking to roll back affirmative action.

Look at the forces looking to pass draconian anti-immigrant laws or blame poor people of color for the mortgage meltdown and economic crisis.

The cast of characters overlaps so much as to be nearly indistinguishable.

This shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Republican pollster Jan R. van Lohuizen, who worked for President Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign, recently wrote: “Polling conducted among Republicans shows that majorities of Republicans and Republican-leaning voters support extending basic legal protections to gays and lesbians.”

Van Lohuizen urged GOP leaders to back off their opposition to equal treatment for same-sex couples, lest being on the wrong side of history marginalize them permanently. He sensed the tide turning, something voters of color understand well.

This is the great civil rights struggle of our era. Marriage equality will succeed because we will not let ourselves be divided. As the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “If one of us is not free, then none of us are truly free.”

George Dean and Ortensia Lopez are co-chairs of The Greenlining Institute, They can be reached at

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