This is a nine-part installment designed to help everyone understand marriage equality. For some, it will be an education, for others, it will be helpful when discussing the subject. I have included links to each chapter at the end, as well as information about the author.
THE RACIAL ANALOGY
While there are significant differences between antiquated bans on interracial marriage and contemporaneous bans on same-sex marriage, the similarity in rhetoric which has been used to defend both is striking. Indeed, many of the same moral and religious arguments originally utilized to oppose miscegenation have simply been recycled in recent times and inserted into the gay marriage debate.
Take rhetoric which employs definitive assertions about “nature,” rhetoric which is all too commonly, if erroneously, relied upon to oppose gay marriage. Not surprisingly, claims about “nature” were also made by those who advocated miscegenation bans thirty years ago. In opposing the legalization of interracial marriage, for instance, the Supreme Court of Georgia held that:
Amalgamation of the races is… unnatural, [yielding offspring who are] generally sickly and effeminate, and… inferior in physical development and strength to the full-blood of either race.
Religious objections to same-sex marriage, frequently utilized by gay marriage opponents, also played a primary role in creating a moral justification for miscegenation bans. Take, for example, a Virginia trial judge’s religious objection to mixed-race marriages:
Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend the races to mix.
Finally, the “slippery slope” argument so often cited by gay marriage opponents originated, not surprisingly, in the miscegenation debate. Virginia courts declared, for instance, that interracial marriage, by definition, simply could not exist because it had theretofore “never been the ‘custom’ of the state to recognize mixed marriages, marriage ‘always’ having been construed to presuppose a different configuration.” If these traditional customs changed, another court argued, America could not “preserve the racial integrity of its citizens,” nor prevent “the corruption of blood” and “a mongrel breed of citizens.”
Indeed, the fear which once surrounded a commingling of the races can not be overestimated in a country whose entire social order was founded upon notions of racial hierarchy and racial purity for the better part of its history. The legalization of miscegenation was thought to represent nothing less than the downfall of Western civilization, an overinflated claim which bears a striking resemblance to contemporary auguries about the legalization of gay marriage.
It should come as no surprise then that many African-American leaders are among the strongest supporters of gay marriage. When the Mississippi House of Representatives passed a measure in March 2004 to ban gay marriage via the state Constitution, only 17 legislators voted against the measure; every one of them were black. And in nearby Georgia, my current home, a similar measure handily passed through the Georgia Senate, but it remarkably each and every one of the 10 black members of the Senate voted against it.
“We cannot keep turning our backs on gay and lesbian Americans. I have fought too hard and too long against discrimination based on race and color not to stand up against discrimination based on sexual orientation.” – African-American Civil Rights Leader, and Congressman, John Lewis.
The current heated topic on the subject of gay rights lately seems center around the Defense of Marriage Act, which would amend the Constitution of the United States to ban same-sex marriage. The topic, which has driven conservatives to the polls in mass droves, is widely seen as having helped George W. Bush’s re-election campaign. In understanding the amendment, one would be wise to recall another proposed amendment to the Constitution introduced in 1912. It stated: “Intermarriage between negros or persons of color and Caucasians … within the United States … is forever prohibited.” i Representative Seaborn Roddenberry of Georgia, who proposed the amendment, argued in his appeal to Congress that: “Intermarriage between whites and blacks is repulsive and averse to every sentiment of pure American spirit. It is abhorrent and repugnant. It is subversive to social peace. It is destructive of moral supremacy… Sound familiar?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Seth Persily is a member of the Georgia Bar and a cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School. While at Harvard, Mr. Persily served as Publisher of the Harvard Law Record and co-President of the Lambda Law Association. Mr. Persily obtained his undergraduate degree from Duke University, where he served as President of the Duke Gay, Bisexual & Lesbian Association. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa, with a B.A. in Religion and a minor in Gay & Lesbian Studies.
Mr. Persily worked at the Atlanta law firm of Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan before opening his own practice, Persily & Associates, which concentrates on employment discrimination and real estate law. He serves on the Board of Directors for Georgia Equality as well as YouthPride.
- Arguing Equality Chapter 3: Sexism and Gay Marriage (waldina.com)
- Arguing Equality Chapter 2: Marriage is a Civilizing Influence (waldina.com)
- Arguing Equality Chapter 1: Gay Marriage as a Matter of Justice (waldina.com)