What's worse than having parents of two different races? A whole lot of things, but you couldn't tell that to Virginia's attorney general, who argued (and lost) the point in Loving v. Virginia, the 1967 Supreme Court case that invalidated state laws against miscegenation, saying, "[C]hildren of intermarried parents are referred to not merely as the children of intermarried parents but as the 'victims' of intermarried parents and as the 'martyrs' of intermarried parents." The martyr theory hasn't died out completely. In 2009 Louisiana Judge Keith Bardwell denied a marriage license to an interracial couple because of "concern for the children."
Similarly, former Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum, who has likened homosexuality to bigotry and adultery, at one campaign stop made his staunch opposition to same-sex marriage all about the kids, arguing that it would "[rob] children of something they need, they deserve, they have a right to." However, according to him, when it comes to depriving kids of the essentials, having a father in prison would be less of a robbery than having two lesbian parents present.
When you want to control what other people do with their personal lives, cast their relationships as a threat to something. Naturally, there used to be all sorts of public anxiety about protecting the purity of the white race from interracial marriage. "White-race purity is the cornerstone of our civilization. Its mongrelization with nonwhite blood, particularly with Negro blood, would spell the downfall of our civilization," a eugenics expert told Virginia lawmakers before they passed the Racial Integrity Act of 1924 (we're still waiting for the crisis to hit).
The Family Research Council has a response for same-sex-marriage supporters who ask, "How does it harm anyone?" In its pamphlet "The Slippery Slope of Same-Sex Marriage," the council says, "Gay marriage threatens the institutions of marriage and the family." How? "Once marriage is no longer confined to a man and a woman, it is impossible to exclude virtually any relationship between two or more partners of either sex — even non-human 'partners.' " Yep, just as the white race needed to be protected from mongrelization, marriage itself must be guarded against people who want to get hitched to animals and inanimate objects.
The NAACP Legal Defense Fund didn't make a huge push for the legalization of interracial marriage. Harvard Law professor and Interracial Intimacies author Randall Kennedy tells The Root that it wasn't high on the list of priorities for most African Americans, and there was no benefit to reinforcing the fear that they were "jumping up and down to be with white people." But the organization did file an amicus brief in the Loving case in 1967 in support of striking down miscegenation laws.
In 2010 the civil rights organization filed a similar brief challenging the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8 in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, actually invoking Loving to argue for the fundamental right of any individual, including members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, to marry the person of his or her choice. Recently the NAACP released a resolution in support of marriage equality. "Civil marriage is a civil right and a matter of civil law. The NAACP's support for marriage equality is deeply rooted in the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution and equal protection of all people," said NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous.
In Loving, Virginia's Supreme Court justified a ban on interracial marriages by citing religious beliefs. And Bob Jones University, which prohibited interracial dating as recently as 2000, offered this reasoning (pdf): "God has made people different one from another and intends those differences to remain. [Interracial marriage] … breaks down the barriers God has established." The school has since apologized for its racist past, but anti-interracial sentiments still linger among evangelicals.
The Bible is one of the first sources to be brought up on the "anti" side of the same-sex-marriage debate, too. "The fact is, Jesus said in Matthew 19 that God's plan for marriage was one man with one woman for life. And so, by embracing same-sex marriage, President Obama has really contradicted the Jesus that he says he follows," Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of First Dallas Baptist Church, said in response to the president's recent endorsement of marriage equality. And the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, of the National Hispanic Leadership Conference, declared, "It is our Christian faith that requires us to uphold the biblical definition of marriage as a sacred union between one man and one woman."
At a 1979 town meeting in Japan, President Jimmy Carter reportedly responded to an inquiry related to interracial marriage that he "would not let the color of a woman's skin interfere with his love for her" — but he made sure his wife, Rosalynn, knew that it was only a hypothetical question.
After years of "evolution" on the issue, President Obama came out a lot more explicitly in favor of marriage equality, saying in an interview with ABC News' Robin Roberts, "It was important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married." However, he made it clear that he still believed the issue was one for states to decide.
Old prejudices die hard. When the General Social Survey (pdf) asked respondents in 1972 if they would favor a legal ban on interracial marriage, 43 percent of those 36 or older said that they would, compared with only 20 percent of those younger than 36. A generation later, in 2000, older Americans still lagged behind their more youthful counterparts on accepting these relationships, with 10 percent and 4 percent, respectively, in favor of a ban.
A 2011 Gallup poll was the first in which a majority of Americans supported same-sex marriage. But it was among those ages 18 to 35 that the number rose to 70 percent. Given the trends in acceptance, it's no surprise that President Obama mentioned that his daughters, Malia and Sasha, were already quite comfortable with the idea of same-sex marriage and actually influenced his stance.
Boxer Jack Johnson was the first African American to hold the world heavyweight boxing champion title, and among the first public figures to be in an interracial marriage — or, rather, marriages: At least three of his wives were white. It seems that he was as brave facing the racism of the Jim Crow era as he was facing opponents in the ring. When his final spouse, Irene Pineau, was asked at his funeral what she had loved about her husband, she responded, "I loved him because of his courage; he faced the world unafraid. There wasn't anybody or anything he feared."
On May 15, 2008, the day after the California Supreme Court struck down the state's ban on gay marriage by ruling it unconstitutional, talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres announced on her program that she and actress Portia de Rossi planned to tie the knot, telling her audience, "I'm so excited. It's something that we've, of course, wanted to do, and we've wanted to be legal, and we're very, very excited." They were married at their home that August.
Anti-miscegenation laws were part of the American legal landscape as early as the 1600s, first introduced by the Colonies and later by many U.S. states and territories — by 1940, 31 out of 48 had them on the books. South Carolina and Alabama actually enacted constitutional bans on interracial marriage, and although they couldn't be enforced after Loving, those laws weren't removed by constitutional amendment until 1998 and 2000 respectively.
"Leave it to the states" continues to be a bad deal for those who want the freedom to marry whomever they'd like. On May 12, 2012, North Carolina voters approved a constitutional amendment defining marriage solely as a union between one man and one woman, making it the 30th state to adopt a ban on gay marriage. "I think it sends a message to the rest of the country that marriage is between one man and one woman," Tami Fitzgerald, leader of the conservative group Vote for Marriage NC, said after the amendment passed.
As American attitudes toward race changed, 15 states overturned their anti-miscegenation laws before the issue was settled once and for all in 1967 by the Loving case, in which the Supreme Court declared, "There can be no doubt that restricting the freedom to marry solely because of racial classifications violates the central meaning of the equal protection clause." To commemorate the removal of the state role in deciding the legality of interracial marriage, there's a push to make a national holiday out of the day the case was decided.
Unlike interracial marriage, which states had to take action to prohibit, they must pass legislation to allow officials to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Massachusetts did this first in 2004, followed by Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont and Washington, D.C. Civil unions are legal in New Jersey, Illinois, Delaware, Rhode Island and Hawaii. Washington and Maryland passed laws in 2012 to begin granting same-sex-marriage licenses, although those could be delayed or derailed by November 2012 voter referendums — just as 2008's Proposition 8 put a stop to California's same-sex marriages.
The idea of amending the Constitution to keep states from getting too generous with marriage isn't new. In 1871 Rep. Andrew King (D-Mo.) proposed a U.S. constitutional amendment banning all marriages between whites and nonwhites throughout the country. It was the first of three similar attempts, but none were successful.
Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney says that he supports a federal marriage amendment, which would change the Constitution to define marriage as being between a man and a woman. Joe Solmonese, an Obama-campaign national co-chair and president of the Human Rights Campaign, recently called that "the enshrining of discrimination into the U.S. Constitution."
The term "miscegenation" first made its way into everyday language as a hot topic raised by opponents of Abraham Lincoln during the presidential campaign of 1864. In an early instance of race-baiting, Democrats coined the new word for race mixing to use against Republicans.
Romney may still be working to earn his stripes as a "real" conservative, but he's been solid on this right-wing issue for some time now, and his opposition to same-sex marriage has been credited with winning him votes in the primaries. He recently bragged that on his watch as governor, he "fought hard and prevented Massachusetts from becoming the Las Vegas of gay marriage." Interestingly enough, that was a reference to his use of a 1913 law meant to keep interracial couples from coming to the state. While President Obama's endorsement of marriage equality didn't immediately move the polls, the election-year announcement certainly won't hurt when it comes to evoking enthusiasm among his liberal supporters.