The confusing logic of, “Marriage is not a civil right. You’re not black.”

PhotobucketThis past weekend Ann Coulter spoke at Homocon the inaugural party of GOProud, a gay conservative organization. After making a series of jokes about gay marriage, Coulter made the dangerous and false statement that gay marriage is not a civil right, because gay folks are not black.

In one of a series of racially insensitive remarks that pervaded her speech, Coulter added, “Marriage is not a civil right. You’re not black.” It was part of a larger argument on which she later elaborated, telling the crowd that the 14th Amendment only applies to African-Americans and that it does not, in fact, apply to women, LGBT people or other minorities.

via TPM.

Beyond the tragic insistence that women, LGBT people and other minorities should maintain second class status, we shouldn’t be shocked by her faulty logic, since she is known for making sweeping generalizations that deny logic and history. I mean, I blame GOProud for thinking she wouldn’t trainwreck this type of keynote and actually give a nuanced analysis of being gay and Republican. The only thing nuanced about Coulter is the multiple and inconsistent ways she can never logically justify her arguments. But, I’ll stop the Coulter dis-fest, since the larger issue here is she is not alone in believing that gay marriage is not a civil right.

After a morning chat with Miriam, we concluded that in an ideal world, the state would not have the right to determine your rights based on your marital status. Marriage shouldn’t be something the state is involved with, we should all have access to the rights that married people have access to. But we don’t. Marriage entails certain rights that in most places only straight people have access to and as a result, those that do not have access to these state ensured rights are being discriminated against.

The attitude that gay marriage is not a civil right has been echoed not just by Coulter but similar sentiments have been heard from folks like Bernice King and the now-in-spotlight Bishop Eddie Long or even SCLC’s ambivalence towards Prop 8, all staunch advocates of black civil rights. I think what baffles me most about this inability to see a similarity in the fight for gay civil rights with black civil rights is that one of the landmark cases for marriage equality was about race, Loving v. Virginia that allowed for interracial marriage. Would these folks also be opposed to interracial marriage? Didn’t Ann Coulter used to date Dinesh D’Souza (scary)? Or would they support the rights of gay black people to get married? Or are there no gay black people?? It just doesn’t fit together.

Melissa Harris-Lacewell wrote last year in a great piece on her reflections on marriage, that marriage was a part of survival and important in maintaining black familial connections during slavery. Marriage was needed as a civil right to sanctify a bond that had already been spiritually developed.

Marriage as the intersection between the personal and political is not new in the United States. In an upcoming book, ‘Til Death or Distance Do Us Part: Love and Marriage in African America, Frances Smith Foster challenges the received wisdom that black families were destroyed during American slavery. She marshals convincing, historical evidence refuting the assumption that enslaved people accepted that their marriages were not “real” because they were not recognized by the state.

Her study of slave marriage does not reveal fragile, transient attachments; rather Foster uncovers a rich legacy of love, struggle, and commitment among enslaved black people. By choosing whom to love, how to love, what to sacrifice, and how long to stay committed, black Americans carved out space for their human selves even as enslavers tried to reduce them to chattel.

In spite of the fact that their marriages were not legally sanctioned, many enslaved people formed lifelong attachments, sacrificed personal security and freedom to maintain their relationships, protected their fidelity despite unthinkable obstacles, and remained deeply attached to their identities as married persons.

As Harris-Lacewell concludes and I agree, this does not assume that we must have a “marriage-only” framework, but work at the intersection of staunchly advocating for marriage as a civil right, recognizing the history and importance of marriage in many different communities,  while also recognizing how marriage itself is problematic. Yes, in an ideal world, marriage is not a right granted by the state, but the rights garnered through marriage were provided for all. But given the status quo and the role that marriage has played for disenfranchised groups to build power within their communities, denying a certain group the right to marry is absolutely a civil rights violation and must be legally fought as one.

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6 Comments

  1. Posted September 27, 2010 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    I’ve brought this up in other forums but I feel it’s worth repeating.

    If you are a member of the Log Cabin Republicans, you are very likely a wealthy individual. LCRs are interested in protecting their wealth above all other things. And it may seem that they have juxtaposed their love of money with their civil rights, but if you have enough money, you can guarantee more rights than you would have otherwise. You can pay expensive lawyers and accountants to make sure you have paperwork to ensure that your partner is never kept from the side of your hospital bed, and that any marriage benefits on taxes can be sufficiently worked around with creative accounting tricks. If you’re sufficiently wealthy and influential, you can even make sure that your partner doesn’t need to rely on you for benefits because you can use your wealth and influence to secure for him a job of his own. You can afford a nice enough house in a nice enough neighborhood with a fantastic security system and a great deal of privacy so you never need to worry about being the victim of a hate crime, or a police raid. These are rights you can guarantee for yourself with your money.

    If you decide to throw your lot in with the Democrats, they might tax you at a higher rate, which will reduce the available money you have to purchase your rights through. And this is on the gamble that they’ll do right and legislate those rights back into existence, which, frankly, is a pretty risky gamble considering the Democratic spinal column is missing a few discs these days. So there’s absolutely no reason, if you aren’t completely selfish, that you should gamble away the protections you’re able to purchase for yourself on the hope that the government is going to step up and do the right thing for you and make the purchase unnecessary.

    Coulter’s speech is intended to reinforce this decision. If you feel that things like marriage equality aren’t really a true civil right, then it just makes the gamble should you switch sides even more dire.

  2. Posted September 27, 2010 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    Coulter’s statement, while ignorant and ridiculous, is nothing new – neither is the argument for marriage as a civil right. If anyone thinks being able to get a state-sanctioned marriage will make them NOT a second class citizen, they’re gong to be really disappointed. I mean racism pretty much just stopped when people of color got the vote and the right to marry, right? The real story here is why Queer communities of color are invisible. Why the mainstream gay agenda is still white and racist, still cares about marriage so much and thinks it’s a solution, and why it still refuses to see where its struggle aligns with communities of color, poor, working class and immigrant communities.

  3. Posted September 27, 2010 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    It seems to me this is some sort of trend in interpreting the reach the 14th Amendment quite narrowly. Justice Scalia just said something similar recently: http://thinkprogress.org/2010/09/20/scalia-women/.

    • Posted September 27, 2010 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

      Seriously. And I find their claims to “not want to overreach with the 14th Amendment” hilarious, because our very notion of corporate personhood was based on a distortion of the 14th Amendment (how and why the courts pulled this out of their ass, I don’t know): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corporate_personhood

  4. Posted September 27, 2010 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    “Marriage shouldn’t be something the state is involved with, we should all have access to the rights that married people have access to.”

    Oh, man, that would be disastrous. The whole point of a marriage contract, from a government’s point of view, is to legally connect two people as family who are not otherwise connected. If there was no marriage, who would, for example, have the right to make medical decisions on behalf of a person? Legally, there would be no connection between that person and their spouse, thus unless every single person had the foresight to name a medical proxy AND update it often enough that it could not be challenged, the government would have no choice but to deny that spouse the right to make decisions in favor of the next of kin.

    Think of all the benefits married people get. Sure, some, like filing taxes jointly, could be done away all together, and others, like joint adoption, could be extended to any two people regardless of their connection. But the majority– and the ones LGBTQI activists care about the most– have to do with the marriage contract as a legal recognition that those two people are FAMILY, even though they have no blood or adoptive ties. Things like rights to medical proxy, rights to assume control of remains, responsibilities for each other’s children, rights to bring non-citizens of the US in as family members, sick leave if your partner or their children are ill… These are all things that can’t be just granted to any two people without prior contract (because there might be disagreements as to who has authority, because they might introduce security risks, and because they would be abused– for example, it’s a lot easier to get time off work if all you have to do is say ANY person you know is ill).

    That’s why we need marriage to be open to ANY persons who wish to enter the contract, and why we should NOT argue for the government to absolve their interest in marriage. Marriage, like birth and adoption, is the government’s way to establish that your family has grown, and this new person is related to you and should have legal rights and responsibilities regarding you. By pretending we would be better off if the government backed out we’re completely ignoring the purpose of and benefits of marriage– in other words, completely forgetting what we’re fighting for in the first place.

    • Posted September 28, 2010 at 9:08 am | Permalink

      “Marriage shouldn’t be something the state is involved with, we should all have access to the rights that married people have access to.”

      Oh, man, that would be disastrous. The whole point of a marriage contract, from a government’s point of view, is to legally connect two people

      The read I got on that statement was that all people, regardless of gender, sex, or relationship status should be able to make a legal contract with another person that will grant the rights which, at the moment are only granted to straight people in “romantic” partnerships.

      In other words, “marriage” as it currently stands needs to be thrown out/completely overhauled to allow for civil contracts (civil unions) between people, be they romantic partners, friends, relatives, etc.

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