This 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.
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.