DECATUR — Local branches of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People are beginning to react to recent news that the national organization has officially thrown its support behind marriage equality, following a similar declaration by President Barack Obama.

At the same time, members of the black faith community are saying it may pose a dilemma for members of their congregations.

“From a local level, of course (the policy) goes against religious beliefs, but when you’re talking about advocacy, if that is the direction the national organization takes, that is the direction the NAACP locally and at all levels has to take,” said Melvin Little, president of the Decatur Branch of the NAACP.

John Elliott, president of the Bloomington-Normal Branch of the NAACP, said the announcement is in keeping with the principles of the civil rights group.

“This is a clarification of their feelings on marriage equality. They’re leaving it up to each individual in terms of your personal feelings,” Elliott said. “It’s not a shift in policy, because it goes back to our mission. It’s a clarification defining what’s under the mission.”

Colleen Bennett-Houston, assistant pastor at City of Refuge Ministries in Bloomington, said that for her and the congregation her son leads, the question isn’t one of race or politics, but of biblical teachings.

“As a Christian, I’m disappointed in this stance. I believe in civil rights for all people, but when it comes to marriage or union, I believe that those things the Bible clearly defines that as between heterosexuals,” Bennett-Houston said. “I believe that Christians in the African-American community — and I won’t speak for all of them but I believe for many of them — have been put in a dilemma when it comes to voting this year.”

Bennett-Houston said the faith community and the NAACP still agree on many issues.

“When it comes to civil rights like housing, employment, I feel like we are in agreement,” Bennett Houston said. “When it comes to hate crimes, even hate crimes against gays, I don’t believe anybody should be hated or put into jeopardy because of their sexual orientation or race or religion. It’s just on this issue, a controversial issue, where we part ways.”

Bennett-Houston said that within her congregation, people’s viewpoints on same-sex marriage are fairly uniform, but she said she has seen indications that some younger people in the black community at large are more comfortable with the idea of marriage equality for same-sex couples.

“When you talk secularly, yes, even talking to some of my nieces and nephews … they feel like (same-sex marriage is) totally all right, it doesn’t matter to them, whereas my mother and aunts are just appalled,” Bennett-Houston said.

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