A Night of the Prop 8 Divide

The Courage Campaign’s Rick Jacobs hosted a book party at his Hollywood home on Thursday night for the Rev. Eric Lee, the president of the Los Angeles chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

While Lee was there to sell and sign copies of his new book, “Proposition 8: The California Divide,” the gathering of progressive activists, local politicians and industry creatives wanted to hear Lee explain just what brought the SCLC’s national leadership to threaten to remove him from his post because of his outspoken stance in favor of same-sex marriage.

The national board has been pretty silent about it in the press — a spokeswoman told the New York Times that the org did not discuss “internal matters” — but according to Lee, he got a call from the group’s National Board of Directors asking him to come to Atlanta to explain why he had taken a position on same-sex marriage without the consent of the board. The national org’s official position is neutral. Later he got letters from the SCLC general counsel threatening that he would be removed if he did not respond in person.

What is a bit mystifying is the timing. Lee has been very visible in support of same-sex marriage, having most recently made the trek from Selma, Calif., to Fresno, where he later spoke to a rally of thousands. But he also spoke at rallies back in November, including one shortly after the election in downtown Los Angeles.

This latest flap has once again focused attention on the racial divide on same-sex marriage, given that a majority of African-Americans voted in favor of Proposition 8 last fall.

In his brief remarks at his book party, Lee invoked the words of SCLC founder Martin Luther King — “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” His stance has not been popular with black ministers in particular, he said, and later he even wondered whether one, a good friend, was shunning him by not returning his phone calls. After talking to the org’s general counsel, himself conflicted by the org’s action and personally opposed to their threat to remove him, Lee said, he learned that the national office has received upwards of 200 calls after articles appeared in the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.

It was not lost by some in the crowd that just hours before, President Obama spoke to the NAACP convention
in New York, warning them that the “pain of discrimination is still
felt in America,” including “by our gay brothers and sisters, still
taunted, still attacked, still denied their rights.”

For now, Lee is still in place, and there is some question as to whether the national board can actually remove him, given the autonomy of local chapters and the fact that in L.A., his board of directors is backing him up.

But recounting an email that he sent to the national board, in which he outlined a host of religious and moral reasons for so publicly taking his stance, Lee said he also gave one infused with a bit of wit: “Since you have taken a
neutral position, any position I take is neither in opposition or in
favor of you.”

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