In times of worldwide globalization and liberalization of attitudes, sexual and racial minorities are getting more and more attention from the state. Thanks to the ability to express themselves openly on many social platforms, society has taken the needs of minorities much more seriously. Among these needs is the possibility of official marriage registration. There have been periods in human history when there were no marriage relations (Okin 782). Moreover, there were periods when cohabitation between a man and a woman without marriage registration was considered a violation of the law. Marriage laws changed from conditional to strict, then softened again. However, they serve two primary purposes: to protect the property rights of the spouses and their relatives and the rights of children born during the marriage.
For example, with a formally concluded marriage, spouses can register common property, obtain custody of their children, or go to the emergency room for their spouse in case of need. Marriage is also heavily bound to wealth distribution since partners receive benefits and share financial burdens (“Marriage Will Never Set Us Free” 00:02:04-00:02:06). Nevertheless, there are still politicians who argue against allowing these kinds of unions. There is much overlap with arguments supporting miscegenation laws that prohibit African Americans and whites from marrying. This paper will present an examination of these intersections and a discussion of racial and sexual hierarchies in the United States and the state’s interest in regulating marriage.
To begin, consider the correlation between the arguments for banning same-sex marriage and supporting miscegenation laws. The moral controversy over the legal union of gay couples in different states is similar to the previously debated topic of interracial marriage which has gone through the same criticism. As with same-sex marriage now, some states accepted it, and some states banned interracial marriage before 1967 (Bernstein 326). Laws against mixed relationships are deeply rooted in American history, beginning in the 1630s and 1640s. Couples who managed to get married in other countries would come back and face prosecution for going against the law that prohibited an African-American from legally marrying a white person (“Loving Story” 00:07:56-00:07:58). Back then, interracial marriages were seen as contrary to social order and were forbidden. Now, in some states, the same arguments are made in favor of banning same-sex marriage.
In addition, the cases tended to involve specific parties, with no threat to society as a whole. These exceptions did not apply to same-sex marriages (Bernstein 325). Moreover, in cases of interracial relationships, public policy exceptions were used to protect vulnerable parties in the relationship, which also did not apply to same-sex couples. Public policy exceptions were based on the need to protect vulnerable individuals in situations when one of the future spouses needed assistance due to the lack of understanding of certain aspects of the marriage agreement. Thus, the arguments for denying same-sex marriage are consistent with concerns about interracial attitudes rooted solely in the identity bias of the parties and the morality of their combination. Among the apparent differences in the rhetoric of banning same-sex and interracial marriage is also a historical aspect.
Unlike those aimed at inter-class marriage, policies aimed to deny gay couples the possibility to get married are not related to historical background and are solely facilitated by the personal beliefs of policymakers in traditional, religious, or social norms that do not encourage such sexual expression. Thus, the comparison is not accurate because of the historical circumstances of the fight against anti-miscegenation laws. It is essential to refer to the differences in purposes when it comes to prohibiting marriage for spouses with different racial backgrounds and same-sex couples. One was perpetrated by political and institutional racism, while the other operates in a society in which such limitations do not affect non-straight individuals on the same levels.
State Intervention in the Institution of Marriage
From the above facts, one can conclude the U.S. racial and sexual hierarchy. The racial hierarchy has historically been built toward white supremacy. This is evidenced by the restrictions on inter-class marriage, which have been abolished relatively recently. The sexual hierarchy, in turn, favors marriage between people of different sexes. Same-sex relationships were considered an act against public morality. Even now, with the liberalization of society, not all states have normalized same-sex marriage. Arguments against them boil down to the immoral and unconventional nature of the union. Precisely the same arguments have been used to justify miscegenation laws.
The measures that have been taken to increase the visibility of sexual minorities are insufficient. This can be inferred from the fact that some politicians continue to restrict the rights of their citizens by banning same-sex marriages. Indeed, some same-sex couples themselves are reluctant to formally marry because they believe that doing so would make them equal to opposite-sex couples. Such people believe that traditional marriage is a stereotype imposed by society’s discriminatory policies. Nevertheless, they should still have the right to enter or not to enter a formal union voluntarily. The authorities cannot assess the moral side of the issue of same-sex marriage since such an opinion is always subjective. This is because most politicians were raised and educated with heteronormative rhetoric.
As for state intervention in the institution of marriage, it has always been high, both in the case of miscegenation and with same-sex couples. The fact is that the government, for the most part, regulates the social and even moral side of society, issuing laws on the permissible and impermissible. In the past, marriages between people of different races were unacceptable, but now marriages between people of the same sex are unacceptable. Nevertheless, in both cases, the government actively intervened in the regulation of such relationships, appealing, among other things, to arguments about the moral side of the issue. Thus, one may conclude that the state considers it its obligation to regulate the institution of marriage and determine the moral aspects of interpersonal relationships, a largely subjective concept that can hardly be restricted.
Bernstein, Mary. Same-Sex Marriage and the Future of the LGBT Movement: SWS Presidential Address. Gender & society, vol. 29, no. 3, 2015, pp. 321–337.
“Loving Story”. YouTube, uploaded by Melissa Gordon, 2021, Web.
“Marriage Will Never Set Us Free”. YouTube, uploaded by Barnard Center for Research on Women, Web.
Okin, Susan Moller. Vulnerability by Marriage. 1989.