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Nadra Kareem Nittle

What Do the Gay Marriage Movement and the Interracial Marriage Movement Have in Common?

By December 6, 2010

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What does the fight for gay rights have in common with the fight for racial equality? Some argue little to nothing. After all, when a gay man walks down the street not everyone knows what his sexual orientation is, but when a black man walks down the street, everyone knows what his race is and behaves accordingly. Despite this difference, Indiana University sociologist Brian Powell argues in the L.A. Times that the gay marriage movement has a lot in common with the interracial marriage movement of decades past.

"Opponents of same-sex marriage...argue that any comparison between same-sex and interracial relationships is deceptive," Powell said. "I disagree. ... I conducted interviews with more than 2,000 Americans on their notions of family, and the surveys revealed an undeniable similarity between current and past opinions regarding same-sex couples and current and past views about interracial couples."

Powell's interviews, conducted this year as well as in 2006 and 2003, revealed that the Americans most likely to oppose same-sex marriage belong to the same demographic of Americans who opposed legalization of interracial marriage in the 1940s, '50s and '60s. According to Powell, these folks are undereducated, hail from the South, are elderly and religiously orthodox. But it's not just the demographic that remains the same, the reasoning these Americans give for opposing  gay marriage mirror the reasons earlier used to oppose interracial marriage. They argue such marriages are unnatural and ungodly, that the children raised by such couples will suffer and that these unions somehow undermine   "real" marriage.

Ultimately, the courts made interracial marriage a reality in America. In 1948, nearly all Americans objected to interracial marriage, according to polls of the time, but the California Supreme Court ignored public opinion and legalized interracial marriage in the state via court case Perez vs. Sharp because bans on such marriages violated the U.S. Constitution. Soon after the California Supreme Court decided to legalize interracial marriage, more than a dozen other states followed suit. And in 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned nationwide bans on interracial marriage, even though only a fifth of Americans supported interracial unions at the time.

Today, about half of Americans support same sex marriage. On Dec. 7, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will hear Perry vs. Schwarzenegger to determine whether same-sex couples should be allowed to marry in light of California's much debated Proposition 8, which Californians voted in favor of in 2008 to make same-sex marriage illegal. Same-sex marriage advocates such as Powell argue that the courts should decide this matter just like the courts decided to legalize interracial marriage decades ago.

Had the courts allowed public opinion to determine whether to legalize interracial marriage, "it is hard to tell how long it would have taken to remove anti-miscegenation laws from the books," Powell points out.

After all, as recently as 1998 and 2000, 40% of the voters in South Carolina and Alabama wanted to keep bans on interracial marriage in their state constitutions, despite the fact that such bans have long been illegal.


December 6, 2010 at 1:45 pm
(1) iecede says:

The demographic doesn’t come as too big of a surprise. Some time ago, I began to suspect that a chauvinist is more likely to be a racist as well, and vice versa.
If a chauvinist is more likely to be a racist, then racists tend to be womanizers, as a general rule. Essentially, no one can do right in their eyes.

December 6, 2010 at 2:33 pm
(2) Shell says:

What is ungodly is NOT allowing two human
beings who wish to be in a lifelong partnership
together legalize their union! Wasn’t one of
the original reasons for marriage to give
children” (now, there’s an oxymoron for ya) a
last name?
As long as the “bible belt” continues to be in the
majority, I fear we’re ALL doomed!

Keep in mind, the abbreviation “Mrs.” used to
have an apostrophe after the “r”!

Single and STAYing that way,

December 6, 2010 at 7:13 pm
(3) Yvonne Davis says:

THe fight for racial equality has been based on truth, justice, and righteousness. The gay rights movement has made gains only by exploiting the civil rights movement. There is no way that the gay rights movement could have preceded the real Civil Rights Movement. No amount of rhetoric, campaigning, or litigating could have given gays the same leverage they have gotten by riding the backs of those who fought for racial equality. The gay rights movement is based on mere illusion.

December 7, 2010 at 4:38 am
(4) Najah Zenthoefer says:

Wake up human rights are human rights. God created us all in his light. If you are a tax paying American you should have the same rights as the next tax paying American. Lets be for real this is a human rights issue nothing to do with who struggled the most blacks or gays. Even if all the mess about gay rights disappears there will be another being discriminated against. Look at this issue as human rights rather than gay rights.

December 7, 2010 at 11:23 pm
(5) Yvonne Davis says:

For this discussion, we were asked to consider what the fight for gay rights might have in common with the fight for racial equality. There have been some people who claimed that the Biblical story of the Curse of Canaan justified the subjugation of blacks. In this story Noah, on recovering from drunkenness, believed his son, Ham, had disrespected him; Noah cursed Canaan, the son of Ham. (Genesis 9:20-27) Since the curse is said to have included darkening of Canaan’s skin and since Noah proclaimed Canaan to be the servant of his brothers, it was inferred by some that any man with dark skin should, rightfully, be a servant. Since the Civil Rights Movement debunked such inference, and since beliefs about the wrongfulness of homosexuality was also based on the Bible, the Civil Rights Movement became a rallying cry for advocates for gay rights.

But while the Curse of Canaan is a narrative about Noah and his family, we find in Leviticus 18:22, a directive–among many other directives–given by God to Moses that forbids that a man should lie with another man as he would lie with a woman. The difference is huge. No wonder gays want to stand in the light of the Civil Rights Movement; they have nowhere else to stand.

January 2, 2011 at 11:16 am
(6) Robert McHenry says:

Just found your blog… good to read well written progressive writing… thanks…. will continue to check in…

now my 2 cents….

In the united states, the definition of “human” has changed over the last few hundred years…

it used to be “christian white straight men with property”… and has expanded very slowly to include the poor, women, all races and all religions… and now is beginning to include all sexual and gender variants (gay, lesbian, bi, transgender, etc).

the process of change is fluid… there are always going to be people that will “push back” against the expansion…

people are afraid of change… people are afraid of “the other” how ever they define it… people feel as though they will “loose” something if

January 8, 2011 at 9:25 am
(7) Lorenzo says:

In my mind, this issue is VERY DEEP. Many valid points are made. As for myself, for a while now, perhaps a year or two. I have been trying to get OUT of the judging business. Don’t get me wrong, I have very strong opinions on issues, and I am very passionate on particular issues, like Black people need to STOP using the “N” word, fathers need to be there for their children regardless of the status of the relationship with the other parent, the Black church is putting too much attention on financial wealth etc. However, it seems to reason that if the law allows same sex relationships to be legal, how can they deny same sex commitments? I’m straight, and I’m married, with a very strong belief in God. I’m just asking.

January 9, 2011 at 2:17 pm
(8) Robert McHenry says:

Somehow I must have missed Yvonne Davis’s vitriolic comments… I find her words to be a little pathetic… very mean spirited… and an example of the small mindedness that always appears to present with bible thumpers… Ms. Davis should remember that many churches including the Southern Baptists used the bible to support slavery… (actually I believe they were founded over this issue… and it was only in 1995… 30 years plus after the civil rights movement that they changed their stance and made an apology for their position.) She, by her words, is an example of an oppressor. I see no difference between her and the Taliban, sharia law, bin laden, khmer rouge, nazi’s or stalin… hate is hate… It is lucky that we, at present, don’t live in a theocracy… She is proof that all communities have pockets of ignorance and evil. She is not a freedom rider… she is the KKK.

January 9, 2011 at 2:25 pm
(9) Robert McHenry says:

Shakespeare in The Merchant of Venice 600 yrs ago said

“If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die?”

This still holds true and this is a standard people should use when they decided if they are going to support human rights for all humans…

Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, Transgenders are Human… they deserve the right to live open, happy, loving lives just like everyone else…

If you believe that they are breaking “God’s Law” then let God deal with it… or don’t you trust in God’s Judgement…

March 31, 2011 at 3:55 pm
(10) Anonymous says:

I am christian and have been since the day I was born, but I believe using the bible as an argument is the wrong way to go. After all, this country isn’t run by religion. If it was, then we most definitely wouldn’t have religious freedom. Therefore, religion shouldn’t affect our laws. Period.
(I am in full support of gay rights, and always will be)

March 31, 2011 at 3:57 pm
(11) Anonymous says:

I honestly believe that the bible shouldn’t be used as an argument, going either way. This country isn’t run by religion, otherwise we wouldn’t have religious freedom. Therefore, religion shouldn’t play a part in our laws.

March 31, 2011 at 3:59 pm
(12) Anonymous says:

Ok, I just realized that it posted my previous comment, which I thought it hadn’t because it told me something weird about me already posting it. Sorry for repeating myself.

March 31, 2011 at 6:35 pm
(13) Anonymous says:

Yvonne Davis, not to burst you bubble, but this isn’t about the link between Gay Marriage and the Civil Rights movement, it’s about the link between Gay Marriage and the Interracial Marriage movement. Those are two different things, though they do have a few similarites.

January 13, 2013 at 2:32 pm
(14) Laura says:

I realize I am a little late with my comment, but just happened upon this discussion and could not leave without saying something to Ms. Davis…just a thought….the gay community does not ride upon the civil rights movement….it is solely based upon the “Human Rights” movement….maybe you’ve heard of it….Our “Declaration of Independence”…WE ALL…..are entitled to the same rights…..Also, since she is so bible driven she should check out 1 Corinthians 14:34….if you want to quote one law….I’d say she should follow them all, if this is her belief……

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