Plumb Lines

May 6, 2009

Interracial Marriage is not like Same-Sex Marriage

Filed under: Uncategorized — David Schaengold @ 2:12 pm

I am depressed about the debate over same-sex marriage. This is the first in what I hope will be a series of posts exploring the topic. I’ll try to work out some of the problems presented by arguments from each side.

One of the most frustrating elements of the debate has been the frequent recourse to analogy, specifically the analogy to anti-miscegenation laws, in place in several Southern states starting in the 18th century and continuing up until  Loving v. Virginia in 1967. Even if proponents of same-sex marriage are right in general, the analogy is wrong. Interracial  marriage and same-sex marriage are different. Confusing the two does a disservice to rational argument.

Four reasons why:

1. Both attackers and defenders of bans on interracial marriage agreed that interracial marriages were, in fact, marriages. The fight about same-sex marriage is whether marriages between members of the same even are marriages. That a black man could marry a white woman, or vice versa, was never called into question by the anti-miscegenation laws, only whether they should be allowed to do so.

2. Bans on interracial marriage were a historical and geographic anomaly. Marriage has been between men and women in all human societies at all times. Interracial marriage was banned in a few states in the United States for about two-hundred years.

3. Ultimately, race has nothing to do with any of the historic functions of marriage. Race is an extraneous property to the goods of companionship and reproduction.  That is to say, a mixed-race couple is no different from any other male and female couple with respect to companionship and reproduction. This is the not the case with a couple containing two members of the same sex (homosexuality as a predicate of individuals, you will note, is also mostly extraneous to the historic functions of marriage).

4. Laws banning interracial marriage explicitly banned interracial marriage. Those who sought to overturn these bans were seeking formal equality: not the expansion of law to include them, but the subtraction of laws designed to exclude them. What they wanted was for race not to be mentioned in the law at all. By contrast, what proponents of same-sex marriage seek is a subjective, substantive equality. They want the law to say that homosexuals should get to marry the kind of people they are permanently oriented to desire. This claim might be right and just, but you will note that the law does not currently say “only heterosexuals get to marry the kind of people they are permanently oriented to desire.” Of course this is what the law actually entails, but nobody is formally excluded in current law. Even to see the current law as exclusive requires a particular and modern understanding of human sexuality, whereas exclusion is the whole point of laws banning interracial marriage. As an analogy, consider people who are permanently oriented to desire animals sexually (not saying this is comparable to homosexuality, but current law ignores this kind of orientation in the same way that it ignores homosexuality, so the example is illustrative). The current law excludes them from marrying those they are permanently oriented to desire. That is, it excludes them in the same way that it excludes homosexuals. The reason we don’t see the law as excluding them is that we don’t imagine such people to form a natural class. We now imagine homosexuals to form a natural class, but we didn’t use to, and the laws were written in the old days. Maybe our laws need updating as we change our understanding of human sexuality, but unlike bans on interracial marriage, our current marriage laws weren’t written to exclude anybody.

David Schaengold



  1. […] Interracial Marriage Still Isn’t Like Same-Sex Marriage Filed under: Uncategorized — David Schaengold @ 12:16 pm One of Andrew’s readers writes in about Carrie Prejean and falls back on a now conventional, but silly and false analogy: […]

    Pingback by Interracial Marriage Still Isn’t Like Same-Sex Marriage « Plumb Lines — May 8, 2009 @ 12:16 pm

  2. […] is Not Intelligence Filed under: Uncategorized — David Schaengold @ 12:32 pm I have elsewhere expressed my annoyance at same-sex marriage advocates who claim that same-sex marriage is just like […]

    Pingback by Reversed Stupidity is Not Intelligence « Plumb Lines — May 8, 2009 @ 12:32 pm

  3. […] to make the true rebuke that needed to be made. I gather that he does consider this analogy to be erroneous, but I do not see the intelligence of those making this analogy have anything to do with his own […]

    Pingback by A Distinction « Plumb Lines — May 8, 2009 @ 2:43 pm

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