The California Supreme Court's gay marriage decision, In re Marriage Cases, 43 Cal.4th 757 (2008), is a controversial development in the history of civil rights.
What will be the arguments over Proposition 8 on the November ballot, which would amend the California constitution to ban gay marriage?
Let's begin with what the gay marriage controversy is not about:
It is not about people being forced to associate with others. (Civil rights developments such as Brown v. Board of Education or the Unruh Act were controversial, because some whites claimed they were forced to go to school with or live next to racial minorities.)
It is not about "preferences" or "reverse discrimination." (Developments such as affirmative action were controversial, because of claims that that whites or men were victims of reverse discrimination, in that racial minorities or women were preferred, regardless of merit.
It is not about overweening federal authority. (Developments such as the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were controversial because of claims that federal oversight was imposed on local officials.)
It is not about protecting human life. (Roe v. Wade is controversial because of claims that abortion is the killing of an unborn person.)
So why do people oppose gay marriage? Some opponents of gay marriage argue that homosexuality itself is immoral, condemned by the Bible. (The Protect Marriage page in support of Proposition 8, however, does not make this claim.) Further, they claim, state recognition of gay marriages will increase homosexuality, to the detriment of society and of the individual gays and lesbians.
This type of controversy, based on the Bible, has precedent: namely, the controversy half a century ago over interracial marriage.
By way of historical background, until the late 1960s, a majority of states had antimiscegenation laws, which banned marriages between whites and other races.
The Supreme Court of Virginia in Naim v. Naim, 197 Va. 80 (1955), exemplified the arguments in support of banning interracial marriage. The Virginia Court cited precedent that marriage is "an institution established by God himself" and a "civilizing, Christianizing institution" and that a ban on interracial marriage is "clearly divine."
Not until 1967, in Loving v. Virginia, did the U.S. Supreme Court hold such bans unconstitutional, in violation of equal protection.)
Most Americans--including gay marriage opponents--now disavow a biblical justification of the interracial marriage bans and now recognize that the bans' real reason was out and-out racism. So, how does the past controversy over antimiscegenation laws bear on gay marriage? My answer: a state should be careful in using the Bible to dictate who may and may not marry whom.