An excellent article by Gary Younge in which he traces the struggles for marriage equality through first race and now through sexual orientation. Younge rightly emphasises that to compare the two struggles is not to equate them but there are parallels which are worth highlighting and he focuses on three of these.
First, is the use of God and tradition to defend exclusivity and, therefore, exclusion. When the Lovings plead guilty in a Virginia Court in 1959, the trial judge, Leon Bazile, gave them a 25-year sentence – suspended, so long as they left the state – with the argument: “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay and red,” as a Virginia judge wrote in 1965, when he upheld the state’s so-called Racial Integrity Act:
“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 for the races to mix.”
At the US supreme court, the state of Virginia compared interracial marriage with polygamy and incest – just as Republican hopeful Rick Santorum has done regarding same-sex marriage.
In 1971, when a American Civil Liberties Union lawyer argued the case for a gay couple’s right to be married before the Minnesota supreme court, one judge turned his chair around and refused to look at him. The court rejected the case unanimously, citing the book of Genesis to support its decision. Religion is still the principal argument against gay marriage, and religious people are still those most likely to oppose it. Another Pew survey shows three in four white evangelicals are opposed to gay marriage (it’s the only religious demographic where support for gay marriage did not increase between 2010 and 2011); that’s roughly the same proportion as those who support gay marriage who are religiously unaffiliated.
Second, the campaigns to prevent these marriages are often rooted in repression and personal hypocrisy for crude electoral gain. During the Jim Crow era in the South, the issue was not whether black and white people could mix, in bed or elsewhere, but on what basis.White men slept with black women all the time, often by force. Strom Thurmond, who ran for the presidency in 1948 as a segregationist, fathered a black daughter in 1924. In the fifties, while he was Alabama governor, Jim Folsom highlighted the hypocrisy when campaigning in the “black belt” between Montgomery and Selma, where opposition to integration was strongest, pointing out that the large number of mixed-race people in the area didn’t come from nowhere. “I want you to know that the sun didn’t bleach ‘em.”
In a later gubernatorial campaign, he asked why white people were getting so worked up about the sacredness of segregation, when it looked to him as though there was “a whole lot of integratin’ goin’ on at night.”
In a similar vein, Ken Mehlman, the head of the Republican National Committee in 2004, who helped put gay marriage bans on the ballot to rally the party’s base in a presidential year, came out himself as gay in 2010. Ted Haggard, the Denver preacher who railed against gay marriage and “lifestyle” turned out to be visiting a gay prostitute on the side.
Finally, some of the same arguments, and even same statutes that were used during Jim Crow, are being used today to prevent gay marriage. In 1913, when Massachusetts was one of just a few states allowing interracial marriage, the state passed a law to prevent clerks from issuing marriage licenses to couples whose unions would not be legal in their home states. After the Massachusetts supreme court allowed gay marriage in 2004, the governor tried to resurrect that law, in order to stop gay couples coming from all over the country to get married there. His name? Mitt Romney. In order to kick the issue into touch, some Democrats – including, to his shame, President Obama – have refused to acknowledge gay marriage as a universal matter of equality; instead, saying it is an issue for each individual state. That is exactly the same argument that those supporting the slave trade made before the civil war.
The parallels are important not least of all as they are evidence that nothing stays the same with all of the people all of the time. But what really stands out for me is the role of religion together heteropatriarchy and heteronormativity in justifying and maintaining oppressives discriminatory laws. The first two areas Younge points two are relevant to the present obsession with passing anti-homosexuality bills in some African countries such as Uganda, Nigeria and Liberia and in others such as Gambia, Ghana, Cameroon, Malawi where leaders continually make anti-homosexual and same-sex marriage pronouncements. In all of these countries, religion and tradition are used as justifications. Secondly in all of these countries there is a strong element of hypocrisy , diversionary politics and a drive for personal political gain.