Friday, March 11, 2011

Marriage Discrimination Comes Full Circle in Maryland

A bill to legalize same-sex marriage in Maryland died today in the House of Delegates. According to the Washington Post, the bill died as the result of opposition by Democrats in Southern Maryland (my home territory) and African-American Democrats from Prince Georges County who cited religious opposition to the bill among their constituents.

It is impossible to not see the sad irony of African-American lawmakers using religion as their justification for casting a vote against marriage equality. The arguments against interracial marriages were often steeped in religious rhetoric.

In June of 1958, Mildred Jeter, a black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, left their home state of Virginia and traveled to Washington, DC to get married. Interracial marriages were illegal in Virginia.  Upon return to the state, the newlyweds were charged with violating state law. In January of 1959, the Lovings pled guilty, but their sentence was suspended after they agreed to leave the state.

The judge that presided over the case had this to say with regard to Virginia's ban on interracial marriage "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."

To be fair, many religious organizations eventually became the most vocal opponents of bans on interracial marriage, but the use of religious justifications by opponents of interracial marriage continued. Maryland banned interracial marriages until 1967.

In 1967, in Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court overturned bans on interracial marriage. The court determined that marriage is one of the "basic civil rights of man...To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State's citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discrimination. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State."

Here we are 44 years later and we have simply decided to replace race with gender preference - otherwise, the justification, the discrimination and the denial of basic equality remains the same. What is different about the story today, however, is that the discrimination has come full circle and the once discriminated against have now joined the ranks of the discriminators. This is a sad day for Maryland.