Thursday, April 10, 2014


Over at The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf argues that comparisons between opponents of same sex marriage and opponents of interracial marriage are inapt and overly broad. (This, in my opinion, is always a stupid argument to get into, but I have to give him props for having the balls to go there.) Part of his reasoning for this is as follows:

Opposition to interracial marriage never included a large contingency that was happy to endorse the legality of black men and white women having sex with one another, living together, raising children together, and sharing domestic-partner benefits as long as they didn't call it a marriage.
Okay, fair enough. But let's look at what's left over. In Mr. Friedersdorf's view, "Opposition to interracial marriage was all but synonymous with a belief in the superiority of one race and the inferiority of another. (In fact, it was inextricably tied to a singularly insidious ideology of white supremacy and black subjugation that has done more damage to America and its people than anything else, and that ranks among the most obscene crimes in history.)" He agrees that wanting to withhold the term "marriage" from same-sex unions is bad, "But it's not credible to argue that they're in the same moral category as the bigots who sustained Jim Crow[...]"

From this, we can assume that, for Mr. Friedersdorf, opposition to interracial marriage is "in the same moral category" as support for Jim Crow laws.

Following are some broad examples of Jim Crow laws:
  • Marriages between whites and other races, usually specified, and not limited simply to blacks, were declared illegal and void. In some places, fines were levied, and it was even possible to go to prison.
  • Any "intimate relations" between whites and certain non-whites were illegal.
  • Natives of certain countries were barred from voting.
  • Certain immigrants were required to carry with them at all times a "certificate of residence," or risk being arrested and jailed.
  • Schools were legally segregated.
  • Multiple races could not eat in the same room, or be served in the same restaurant.
  • Amateur sports teams could not play within two blocks of a playground set aside for a different race.
  • Railways were required to be segregated, with files and jail time for conductors or passengers who failed to comply.
  • It was unlawful to rent an apartment to someone of a different race than the other occupants.
  • If a person's "lineal descendants" couldn't vote in 1866, they had to pass a literacy test to vote. (This, by the way, is related to the origin of the term "Grandfather clause.")
  • Housing covenants could be enacted that denied the right to live in entire neighborhoods to specified races - again, not limited simply to blacks.
Now, according to Mr. Friedersdorf, a person who supported anti-miscegenation statutes, is inextricably on the hook for ALL of the provisions listed above. There's just no escaping it. It is, by his reasoning, a single, undifferentiated, mass of bigotry. But the difference between saying that interracial marriage should be illegal, and saying that the marriages should be allowed, but called something other than marriage is big enough that they're in self-evidently different moral categories. Really?

Now, to be sure, my point isn't that there no room to make a moral distinction between allowing interracial civil unions and banning all interracial relationships from legal standing. My point is that if there is room for that, why is there no room between banning all interracial relationships from legal standing, and threatening people with jail simply for sitting on a train near someone of another race? Is the gap really so broad between allowing interracial civil unions and banning all interracial relationships from legal standing that is dwarfs the gap between opposition to interracial marriage and the varied other components of one of "the most obscene crimes in history?"

How you feel about opponents of same-sex marriage, whether they support civil unions or not, is not a matter of the appropriateness of drawing lines. It's about where those lines are drawn. Mr. Friedersdorf feels that it's so blatantly obvious that the line should drawn between banning marriage and terming it a civil union that he feels that no other position is credible.

I think people can be forgiven for not seeing it, and drawing their own.

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