Remember Loving v Virginia?
Hint: less than fifty years ago, the law said that they couldn’t marry.
No just that they could not marry, but that their doing so was a felony and as such, it warranted tossing them in jail for up to one year.
Why, you ask? Apparently because God decreed that human races–like animal species–shall not mix. As the judge who tried them said:
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 for the races to mix.
One would think that the whole idea is ass-backwards as hell, right?
Apparently, the Supreme Court of the United States thought so, and put an end to the ‘right’ of individual states to punish people of different ethnicity who loved each other and wanted to marry.
And, to the amazement of the many, many racist assholes douchecanoes wastes of space out there, the world as we know it didn’t come to an end.
Shocking, I know.
Almost five decades later, and since the Supreme Court has finally been cornered into hearing the issue of gay marriage, we can hear the anguished cries of the faithful: Marriage was defined by God, and the laws of men should abide by this mandate.
Also popular: Homosexuality is a sin and should, therefore, be illegal and punished like all crimes–see this pro se filing by Sylvia Ann Driskell in Nebraska.
Like other noted scholars,¹ Ms Driskell does not seem too troubled by that tiny, small, irrelevant little thing about the separation of church and state that’s written down in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.
I am heartened, however, because there are people out there, Christian-type religious people, who are neither dismissive of the Constitution, nor full of un-Christian hatred.
Such as Corey Fields,² a Baptist Pastor, who has this to say:
Myth: Marriage is being redefined for the first time in history. This is just not true. I’m amazed at how many pundits have gotten away with making the historically inaccurate claim that “traditional marriage” has always been the fabric of society. When most people use the term “traditional marriage” they are referring to a relationship that is: 1) between only one man and only one woman, and 2) freely chosen by both parties. Defined this way, traditional marriage is not a historical precedent but a recent phenomenon. The idea of mutual consent–both parties freely choosing the relationship–is a very recent practice and arranged marriages are still the norm in some international communities today. In biblical times and places, marriage was never chosen by the woman and was little more than the transfer of property. Having many wives and concubines was a sign of wealth and status; a man could have as many as he could afford. Even the most admired and revered characters in scripture (David, Solomon, etc.) had women coming out of their ears and this did not seem to be a problem. Men paid a “bride price” to a woman’s father to take her in marriage, something that was done even after a rape that took the woman’s virginity (Deut 22:28-29). Even with the beloved biblical couple of Joseph and Mary, there is no reason to think that Mary chose the relationship. So, to put it lightly, the Bible does not put forth one exclusive marriage ethic, and as one bumper sticker facetiously put it: “The fact that you can’t sell your daughter for three goats and a cow means that we’ve already redefined marriage.”
I see no Constitutional way to justify denying marriage rights. We can’t discriminate based on gender. We can’t discriminate based on race. Now that most people concede that sexual orientation is also not chosen, how can we justify discrimination in that regard? Our governing document is the Constitution. The Constitution is a religiously neutral document that makes no reference whatsoever to God, Jesus, or Christianity, and it never quotes from the Bible. There’s a lot of talk about the faith of the founding fathers as if it is somehow relevant in questions of governance. In the history classroom, yes, it is obviously very important. But those men – whether they were Christians, Diests, or whatever – penned a religiously neutral Constitution that renders their faith (and anyone else’s) irrelevant in questions of governance. The Constitution is a wholly secular and largely boring document that lays out the structures and practices of American governance, going on to forbid an established state religion in its first amendment. Furthermore, majority opinions do not matter in questions of rights. Even if 93% of all the residents of Mississippi wanted to re-institute public school segregation or separate water fountains, they couldn’t do it. As Justice Sullivan wrote in the majority opinion of Westbrook v. Mihaly, “Constitutional rights may not be infringed simply because the majority of the people choose that they be.” Many early Baptists were coming from contexts where that was done, and they fought to make sure we didn’t do it here. Thanks to church and state separation, churches can deny anybody virtually anything, including a wedding ceremony, based on their religious beliefs and policies. The state, however, must produce entirely different reasons for denying it. Prop 8’s defenders tried out some of these other reasons back in 2010, and they did not hold up in court.
And so, despite all the Sylvia Ann Driskells of the world, as I sit here, I hope that the Supreme Court actually upholds the civil rights of all the citizens of this county.
And I hope, how I hope! that when we celebrate Loving Day in 2016, we do so knowing that yet another barrier to love has been struck down–at least in the United States.
As Richard Loving told his lawyer, Bernard S Cohen, “Mr. Cohen, tell the Court I love my wife, and it is just unfair that I can’t live with her in Virginia.”
As Mildred Loving said in June 2007:
I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry… 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.
¹ Yes, that’s mockery, but never fear, I am not singling Ms Driskell out–surf the web for a few minutes and listen to what oh so many politicians have said about this topic. Better yet, go watch this clip from The Newsroom (and remember that yes, those people said that).
² More recently, Mr Fields wrote this piece on the history of freedom of religion in the United States: