Friday, 16 June 2006

Love and Marriage

"Almighty God created the races, white, black, yellow, Malay, and red and placed them on separate continents, and but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such [mixed race] marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend the races to mix,"
This little piece of enlightened rhetoric spouted from the revered lips of Caroline County Circuit Court Judge Leon Bazile in 1958 as he suspended the one year jail sentence against a newly wed mixed race couple; Suspended the sentence, that is, so long as the couple left the state and did not return together for a quarter-century… Talk about activist judges!

Mixed marriages were finally made legal in the US in 1967 after that same couple mentioned above did go into exile to a more liberal part of the country and went to court. This happened 39 years ago, on 12th June; the case was, aptly enough, Loving v. Virginia. The repercussions of this change in the law on the demographics of the country have been significant.

Doesn't the argument sound familiar, though? God (or rather those fortunate enough to be in the confidence) telling us, poor ignorant mortals, what marriage is and should be? Although it seems that, contrary to what we are now being told repeatedly, and following the same reasoning used today, albeit with a different conclusion, marriage was not always simply the union of a man and a woman… A law banning mixed marriages was fisrt passed in Maryland in 1661.

In the light of this week’s anniversary, George Bush’s recent remark that “Marriage cannot be severed from its cultural, religious and natural roots […]”, takes, I think, a different meaning altogether (although this is obviously not what he would want to say): Clearly that the religious right cannot reconcile itself with the idea of liberating marriage from cultural and religious constraint and simply have it recognised by the state a the caring and loving union of two individuals; that it is something to be regreted and that marriage SHOULD indeed be severed from its cultural, religious and natural roots.

Marriage, by its very nature as a human institution, is steeped into cultural and religious contradictions and I don’t think looking back at what the institution has been over the years can help define what it should be in our time. If anything history will tell us that bigotry and religious hypocrisy were as vocal on the subject as it is now. Rather, the state should create the circumstances to liberate the institution as much as possible of any partisan influence. This will certainly not be achieved by restricting it to the union of a man and a woman. If we heed God’s message in the Bible has a duty to go forth and multiply; why not limit marriage to the union of fertile heterosexual couples, since marriage is apparently there only for the bringing up of children?

This story is also a reminder, if one is needed, that racism and homophobia are the two sides of the same coin kept into a brimming purse labelled ignorance.

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