An organization of black clergy members traveled to the NAACP's annual convention in Houston to protest the civil rights group's recent decision to endorse same-sex marriage.
The Coalition of African-American Pastors (CAAP), headed by Rev. William Owens of Memphis, Tenn., said that the NAACP had abandoned its core mission by supporting same-sex marriage.
"This is supposed to be an organization for black people who were beaten, who were mistreated and who were enslaved," Owens told The Huffington Post. "You're advocating for something that's not normal, that's not natural. It's still out of line, it's against moral law."
"Gay marriage is leading us down a bad path," Owens added. "Our young people are already hurt. They're already damaged."
Owens said that the NAACP should focus on issues like unemployment and education, and added that CAAP's online petition in support of "traditional marriage" had garnered at least 5,000 signatures since the group held an initial press conference about its effort last week. He said that he doubted the civil rights group's membership would have backed the resolution.
"If they have taken an issue where they asked members, they would have lost," Owens said. "They had to do it under cloak of darkness."
If audience reaction is any measure of rank-and-file opinion on the matter, Mitt Romney on Wednesday was booed for several of his statements during his address to the NAACP, but won scattered applause for his vow to defend "traditional marriage."
Ben Jealous, the NAACP's president, said in June that the civil rights group's board, which has 64 members, was overwhelmingly in favor of the measure.
"If you go to the board, you'll see a lot of religious leaders," Jealous told The Huffington Post last month. "All of the religious leaders on our board, except for one, were for marriage equality."
The NAACP's endorsement of same-sex marriage came on the heels of President Obama's own statement of support in May. Owens said he thought the president would pay a "high price" for his statement and that the president had made the move in order to court wealthy Hollywood donors.
When asked whether he personally knew any same-sex couples, Owens said he did not. "Not that I would have an aversion to knowing them," he said. "I just don't know any."
Polls have shown that black opposition to same-sex marriage has considerably softened since the president announced his support. A Washington Post-ABC survey found that a majority of African Americans support same-sex marriage, and that black support had jumped 18 percent in May alone. Other polls taken in Ohio and North Carolina, both swing states this fall, have shown dramatic jumps in black support on the issue.
Black church leaders have been split on the issue. "No church or group is monolithic," Bishop Timothy Clarke of the First Church of God in Columbus, Ohio, told USA Today. "Some were powerfully agitated and disappointed. Others were curious -- Why now? To what end? Others were hurt. And others, to be honest, told me it's not an issue and they don't have a problem with it."
Jealous expounded on the shift.
"What you've seen in the black community in the wake of Obama's decision and then ours is that people actually stop and think about it intensely and in clear terms about what are the rights of religions versus the responsibilities of government," Jealous said.