On miscegenation and gay marriage

I find Richard Thompson Ford’s, The Race Card: How Bluffing About Bias Makes Race Relations Worse, compelling and convincing in just about every way but one: he argues gay marriage is not like miscegenation.

Ampersand reminds us that Mildred Loving didn’t agree.

On the 40th Anniversary of Loving v Virginia Mrs. Loving released a statement:

My generation was bitterly divided over something that should have been so clear and right. The majority believed that what the judge said, that it was God’s plan to keep people apart, and that government should discriminate against people in love. But I have lived long enough now to see big changes. The older generation’s fears and prejudices have given way, and today’s young people realize that if someone loves someone they have a right to marry.

Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don’t think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the “wrong kind of person” for me to marry. I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people’s civil rights.

I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard’s and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.

So what are the differences Ford sees that Loving missed?

Ford points out that in the 1960s when the Lovings challenged Virginia’s antimiscegenation law, they weren’t just “making a symbolic political statement.” They were fighting a one-year jail term, suspended on the condition that they would not return to the state:

[T]he resistance to interracial marriage in the 1960s was only part of a larger effort to punish and deter interracial sex. The evil that miscegenation laws were designed to prevent was any and all in¬timate racial mixing; the prime worries were the purity and sex¬ual innocence of white women and the potential emergence of a “mongrel race.” Laws against fornication and cohabitation worked hand in glove with antimiscegenation laws, and the threat of lynching supplemented the legal prohibitions.

In contrast, says Ford, “By 2004 American law had accepted, if not embraced, same-sex intimacy; the struggle was now [merely] over the status of marriage.”

With that as the comparison, I agree with Ford that same sex couples should use caution when they talk about those 1,100 (Freedom to Marry) or 1,200 (GAO pdf) benefits married people get that they are deprived of!

Ford moves on, though, to claim that opposition to gay marriage is not rooted in bias. It is instead, he says, motivated by a commitment to distinctive sex roles:

The desperate effort to retain traditional sex roles (or build them from scratch) is often comical and occasionally pathetic. But it is an understandable, if unrefined, reaction to a real social cataclysm: the erosion of traditional gender hierarchy and with it a comforting, if oppressive, social order. What traditional conservativism lacks in social justice, it makes up for in psychological insight: many people prefer even a hierarchical social order to constant uncertainty and flux. Marriage fills this gender gap: it is one of the few social institutions left that unapologetically divides the sexes into distinctive roles. You may not always know who wears the pants in a marriage, much less who gives and who receives in the matrimonial bed, but at least there is an established model for the relationship. This is why symbolism is as important to the opponents of same-sex marriage as to its advocates: Maybe this desire for stable sex roles is itself a type of prejudice: radical feminists have written volumes arguing as much. But it isn’t homophobia.

Now I’ve read most everything cited in his footnotes. All of the usual suspects are there –  Jonathan Rauch, Andrew Sullivan, Gabrielle Rotello — and I’m not seeing the justification for his conclusions.

In fact, I’d point as definitively to Russell Shorto writing in the NYTimes Magazine in June 2005, What’s Their Real Problem with Gay Marriage (It’s the Gay Part). A very long and important article, here are a few choice excerpts:

I found no one among the people on the ground who are leading the anti-gay-marriage cause who said in essence: ‘’I have nothing against homosexuality. I just don’t believe gays should be allowed to marry.’’ Rather, their passion comes from their conviction that homosexuality is a sin, is immoral, harms children and spreads disease. Not only that, but they see homosexuality itself as a kind of disease, one that afflicts not only individuals but also society at large and that shares one of the prominent features of a disease: it seeks to spread itself. [...]

Gay rights leaders say that gay marriage has become useful for their counterparts on the religious right in part because it allows them to tap into an antipathy toward homosexuality…In this calculation, gay marriage serves as a vessel for containing opinions that many social conservatives have but which in the past they might have felt were socially unacceptable to voice.

Robert Knight, the director of the Culture and Family Institute of Concerned Women for America, conceded as much. ‘’People feel liberated,’’ he said. ‘’They feel like we don’t have to go along with this stuff anymore, the idea that we’re repressed backwater religious zealots just for wanting a decent society in which our children can thrive. It’s O.K. today to say that marriage is between a man and a woman. Saying so does not make you a hater or bigot.’’ [...]

At its essence, then, the Christian conservative thinking about gay marriage runs this way. Homosexuality is not an innate, biological condition but a disease in society. Marriage is the healthy root of society. To put the two together is thus willfully to introduce disease to that root. It is society willing self-destruction, which is itself a symptom of a wider societal disease, that of secularism.

It looks to me like one could argue that there are some pretty deep seated mistaken beliefs about gay people, as there once were some pretty deep seated mistaken beliefs about black people. Those beliefs would then need to be corrected. Not tolerated.

In the end, though, it’s not like Ford and I are all that far apart. I get his point. He says why fight 2 battles — the antigay prejudice and the gender norms. We’re winning the prejudice so go with it by sticking with civil unions.

An option I do find attractive is proposed by yet another law professor, Cass Sunstein, and a behavioral economist, Richard Thaler, in their book, Nudge. They propose we get the state out of the business of marriage altogether, and leave only the contract, which is the rightful domain of the state. And leave marriage to the church, where it belongs.

6 Comments

  1. I have no idea what to think, because after the rights and wrongs have been decided, tactics do matter, and I don't have a clear idea what the best tactics would br.

    I understand a one-man+one-woman referendum will be voted on soom in CA, and I wonder if this court decision will energize opponents, and how much.
    I also read that activists from other states are coming to assist the resistance.

    One good thing about having such a long fight is that their repetitive 'protecting marriage' rhetoric is beginning to sound stale and meaningless.

  2. runasim,

    It's not about “one-man+one-woman”, it's about respect and common decency for everybody… Why is such a seemingly easy thing so hard for so many?

    Heterosexually yours,
    SteveK

  3. If anyone knows what they're talking about on this subject, it would be Mildred Loving. If we ever manage to transcend this backward period, future historians will look back and marvel at how so many people were willing to embrace superstition and intolerance over reason and inclusion.

  4. SteveK.

    The one man, one woman referendum is not my idea, and it's the opposite of what I believe.

    it is what the opposition trotted to TV stations, however, the moment the court decision was announced. Since they've had success passing such referendums in other states, this does cause some concern.

  5. I'm all for the separation of church and state- let the state confer any legal benefits (tax, hospital visitations, work place benefits, etc.) on anyone (straight or gay) who want to marry. Let the couple's church marry them to recognize the spiritual/religious aspect.

    We're actually closer to that religious/state separation than most people think…. Right now couples need to go down to CIty Hall (or some other government place) to be legally recognized. Some couples just stop at the civil union. But the icing on the cake is the traditional church marriage. Obviously if a same sex couple's church doesn't recognize same sex marriage then that church would not perform the religious ceremony. If people have a problem with their church, then they are free to worship somewhere else. Though it is probably difficult to find inclusive churches in Jesusland. :)

    So many in the religious right not only want the state to discriminate against same sex couples, but those same people want all religions to discriminate against same-sex marriage. I don't see those religious people saying that same-sex marriage would be ok in other religions….

  6. Actually, from now on, we can use the phrase “protecting marriage” to mean protecting marriage equality. In November, bigots in California will be trying to change the definition or marriage through lies, slander and bullying. Fight to preserve marriage as the Court has *recognized* it, not defined it. The definition of marriage has not changed, only the participants are no longer being excluded for quaint religious reasons. Don't let bigots decide for everyone who can and who cannot be married. Don't let bigots force this country's most populous state to oppress a minority of its citizens. In this sense, we must protect marriage from being coopted by narrowminded throwbacks to the dark ages.

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