Written by Rana Tahir ’13
Gay marriage. It’s a hot-button issue of civil rights. Am I for it? Yes (always have been). But the reason why really wasn’t clear to me until this lecture by Professor (Catherine) Denial.
Before, for me, it was a simple civil rights thing: equality for all means equality for all, ‘nuff said. The historical context makes this choice even bigger, and I believe that was Professor Denial’s aim.
By going through the historical context of marriage in the United States one sees how EVERY (I’m not kidding, literally every) argument that has been made against gay marriage has been made against eliminating coverture over women, and against interracial marriage.
Coverture is the idea that all rights a woman has are through her husband. Ladies, you can’t vote, but when your husband or father votes, let’s hope he keeps your preferences in mind. Fingers crossed.
Sounds medieval? Well, this practice survived from pre-revolutionary America till the 20th century with cases like Thompson vs. Thompson in 1911. In this case, a wife, Mrs. Thompson, was abused by her husband, but the court decided that anything happening within a household was not its business. (Ironically, the same argument for privacy here was later used in contraceptive cases.)
Then we see interracial marriage, which was only made legal 45 years ago. The rule was that white people could only marry white people. In Loving v. Virginia (1967), the court struck down the law saying that Mr. and Mrs. Loving’s marriage (between a white man and black woman) was illegal.
After listing these three past issues, you may be wondering how this relates to gay marriage. Well, again, every argument used against gay marriage was used to maintain an idea of marriage.
Marriage was never (in the history of this country) a religious issue; it was always controlled by the State. A marriage license was always issued by the State, not a preacher of any kind.
Ever heard of this? “It is not natural or right for people of the same sex to marry each other.”
Well, in the 1800s it was: “It is not natural or right for women to have the same rights as their husbands.”
That was literally the case of Bradwell v. Illinois (1873), when Mrs. Bradwell’s law license was revoked because she was married. Justice Joseph Bradley said that because historically women were not given equal rights, women are not fit by nature to have those rights.
Or let’s try: “It is not natural or right for whites to marry non-whites.”
Just a few decades ago, a justice argued that the divine creator put all the races on different continents so that they wouldn’t mix.
There are tons more examples of this. At the end of the day, it’s like we’re just a bunch of dogs chasing our tails round and round, as if it’s something new.
You know what they say, those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.