Here Is How Religious-Right Activists Sound So Much Like Opponents of Interracial Marriage Decades Ago

by Dan Quinn

“Redefining #marriage “equals” no safeguards against “freedom to marry” multiple people for love, polygamy.”

Jonathan Saenz, the lawyer/lobbyist who heads the anti-gay group Texas Values, is once again making arguments Americans heard long ago when interracial couples sought the right to marry.

Greg Johnson, a professor at the Vermont Law School, has compared the arguments made against same-sex marriage today to those made against interracial marriage. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned interracial marriage bans in 1967 in Loving v. Virginia. Writing for the Vermont Law Review in 2012, Johnson noted the similarities in arguments against interracial marriage then and same-sex marriage now, including the argument — as Saenz makes — that allowing same-sex marriage will lead to polygamy:

Defenders of traditional marriage back then worried that allowing interracial marriage would lead to, as one court put it, “the father living with his daughter, the son with the mother,” and the “Turk or Mohammedan, with his numerous wives, [] establish[ing] his harem at the doors of the capitol . . . .” When the California Supreme Court struck down that state’s ban on interracial marriage, it had to defend its decision against the charge that allowing interracial marriage would lead to polygamy. It has been sixty years since the California decision. Striking down the ban on interracial marriage obviously did not lead to polygamy or fathers marrying daughters. Perhaps the same specious argument can now also be laid to rest in the same-sex marriage debate.

Johnson also noted arguments about interracial marriage being a threat to families and children. Johnson quotes a Missouri Supreme Court ruling that went so far as to dismiss the entire notion that interracial marriages could even produce children:

“[I]f the isssue [sic] of a black man and a white woman, and a white man and a black woman, intermarry, they cannot possibly have any progeny, and such a fact sufficiently justifies those laws which forbid the intermarriage of blacks and whites . . . .”

Fast-forward to last year, when Greg Abbott — still the Texas attorney general — argued that Texas can ban same-sex marriage because such unions don’t “naturally produce children.”

Today opponents of marriage equality for same-sex couples also argue that recognizing such unions will threaten the institution and the marriages of opposite-sex couples. Again from Johnson’s article:

[C]ourts in the interracial marriage cases feared that allowing interracial couples to marry would tarnish the institution and destabilize fragile one-race marriages. Listen to the Alabama Supreme Court’s curious defense of that state’s ban on interracial marriage:

“It is through the marriage relation that the homes of a people are created . . . . These homes, in which the virtues are most cultivated and happiness most abounds, are the true . . . nurseries of States. Who can estimate the evil of introducing into their most intimate relations, elements so heterogeneous that they must naturally cause discord, shame, [and] disruption of family circles . . . . [T]he more humble and helpless families are, the more they need this sort of protection. Their spirits are crushed, or become rebellious, when other ills besides those of poverty, are heaped upon them. . . . [T]he law should absolutely frustrate and prevent the growth of any desire or idea of such an alliance . . . by making marriage between the two races, legally impossible[.]”

There is also the blanket position that seems to require no supporting evidence at all: marriage equality is just evil. Here’s Johnson again on the battle over interracial marriage:

The Georgia Supreme Court succinctly summarized the sentiment of essentially every court to consider this issue before Perez [v. Lippold in California, 1948] when it said, interracial marriages “are productive of evil, and evil only, without any corresponding good.”

Johnson points out that all of the fears about interracial arguments failed to come true:

All the worries about the end of marriage and the end of society, should interracial couples be allowed to marry, were obviously misplaced. The institution of marriage was not destroyed or even weakened by allowing interracial couples into the institution; it was strengthened. Personal liberty was enriched, and the social compact made firm, by extending marriage to interracial couples.

It’s important to acknowledge that not everyone who opposes marriage equality for same-sex couples is necessarily a bigot or just like those who opposed interracial marriage. Indeed, many may think it is wrong to discriminate against LGBT people in other areas, such as employment and housing. Their opposition to marriage equality is misguided, but its source isn’t necessarily contempt or hatred for LGBT people.

But then there are people like Saenz and others at Texas Values and other religious-right groups. They shamelessly cultivate fear and bigotry, using faith as a weapon to harm others. Indeed, they see religious freedom essentially as the right to use religion to discriminate against anyone who offends them. And in many ways, they sound just like the bigots who argued so viciously against interracial marriage decades ago.