From Louisiana, a lesson in marriage inequality

Posted on 22 Jan 2009 at 10:31am
By Jennifer Vanasco | jennifer.vanasco@gmail.com

A J.P.’s refusal to give a marriage license to an interracial couple highlights the inherent inequity in state, federal laws prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying

Let me tell you a story: A Louisiana couple goes to a justice of the peace. They love each other. They want to get married.

The justice of the peace, though, denies them a marriage license.

He says society doesn’t accept those kind of marriages. He doubts, he says, that the couple will be together long. He says, "My main concern is for the children."

He says, "I don’t want to put children in a situation they didn’t bring on themselves."

He says, "In my heart, I feel the children will later suffer."

He says, "I try to treat everyone equally."

This is exactly what happens to gay couples over and over again in the 45 states where we can’t marry.

But this story isn’t about a gay couple. It’s about a straight couple. An interracial straight couple.

And no, this interracial straight couple story didn’t happen in the 1950s, way before the landmark 1967 Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia in which the court wrote, "Marriage is one of the  basic civil rights of man, fundamental to our very existence and survival."

This story happened this month. It was reported by the Associated Press.
It is an astounding story, because the same arguments that the justice of the peace made against marrying this interracial couple — arguments that are clearly wrong and, in fact, illegal — are regularly made to explain why gay couples shouldn’t be able to marry.

Sometimes, people learn best by analogy. It is easier for us to understand a complex situation if we are shown the ways it resembles a more familiar situation.
Because of that, this ugly incident is something of a (strange) gift to the gay community. It is clear that this public official is wrong in refusing to marry an interracial couple based on his own experience, opinions and prejudices.

And, because he uses the same arguments used against gay couples, we can see that it is also wrong when individuals — and states, and the federal government — refuse to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, just because they are worried about the effect on the couple’s children, or because they don’t think that sort of couple is valued as highly. (Remember that the official said he believed that interracial marriages don’t last long — that is, they are not as strong or equal as same-race marriages.)

National LGBT organizations quickly issued a joint statement saying they stood with the NAACP and that "It is wrong for loving couples who want to make a life-long marriage commitment to be denied that right because of someone else’s prejudice."

It is wrong. It is wrong when it comes to interracial straight couples, and it is wrong when it comes to gay and lesbian couples.

We rely on public officials, legislators and judges to do their work in the best interest of the people, without personal bias.

We don’t ask them to judge the quality of our marriages or our commitments; we don’t ask them to decide if we love each other enough, or are mature enough, or are a couple that other people like, respect and approve of.

We don’t ask them to analyze each couple’s fitness to be parents or partners. We don’t ask them to pick our perfect mate, or decide what we should and should not do in the bedroom. That is not their job.

All we ask is that they license our marriages so that we have proof that we belong to our partners exclusively, that we are a family in the eyes of the law.

It is 2009 and an interracial couple still has issues getting married in the state of Louisiana. It is 2009 and a gay couple still can’t get married in the state of New York — or Illinois or California or Texas.

Both situations are equally wrong.

Jennifer Vanasco is an award-winning, syndicated columnist. Follow her at Twitter.com/JenniferVanasco.

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This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 23, 2009.

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