As the fevered handwringing and celebrations over the Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling remains in full swing, I thought it may be a good time to reflect on what gay people really won. On one level they quite rightly won equal protection under the law and will be able to be issued marriage licenses in every state. Marriage was reclassified from a, “basic civil right”, to a “fundamental right”. That doesn’t sound much different, but it makes a huge difference. In my blog last week, I asked why we need government approval for a marriage in the first place. What is the point of a marriage license? Well, in an effort to answer my own question, I did a little digging. What I found out was horrifying.
In order to fully explain what I mean, let’s start with marriage before the marriage license. Yes! There is such a thing! Let’s go way back to the 1600’s where most of our laws concerning marriage were inherited from England. The ugliest of these laws were called anti-miscegenation laws, or laws that prevented interracial marriages. These laws persisted for over 300 years. They were prevalent in almost every state in the union. Miscegenation laws were upheld numerous times even after the 14th amendment was passed. In the famous Supreme Court case of 1896, Plessy v. Ferguson, the concept of “separate but equal” became the law of the land. This allowed the states that still clung to anti-miscegenation laws to renew their fervor against interracial marriage. The argument went something like: Everyone is free to marry, just marry in your own race. Which sounds eerily similar to: Gay people can get married, just marry someone of the opposite sex.
Up until this point in American history, around the 1920’s, there was no such thing as a marriage license. The states invented them as a way to dictate who could and could not get married for the purpose of making sure blacks, whites, Asians and Indians didn’t mix. That’s right. Marriage licenses were invented as a way to stop white people from marrying black people. Because they couldn’t get a license, interracial couples who would have been considered married before the marriage license was available, ceased to be married. They lost inheritance rights, medical rights and all other benefits of common law marriage. The issuers of marriage licenses were considered the gate keepers, charged with keeping the white race pure.
Laws against interracial marriage persisted long after segregation was deemed unconstitutional in 1957. It wasn’t until 1967 that anti-miscegenation laws were wiped off the books in the southern states. Alabama didn’t bother to take it off the books until 2000. Thanks for that Alabama, appreciate it. In fact, I live in Florida, where until 1967 an interracial marriage could get you 10 years in prison. Thank goodness for Alabama I guess.
My question for gay people is this: If this is what you won, did you really win? Really? What I see that you won is to be able to claim the government can now have dominion over your marriage just like it does of straight peoples’ marriages. If you are really looking for equality might I suggest joining in the fight to abolish the marriage license? Look at it this way, by what right does the government have the right to approve or deny who we want to form a life with? A license is permission. Do you really need permission to love someone enough to spend your life with them?
I get it. There are certain benefits to being married. Social Security, Medical, Legal, survivorship rights. Without a marriage license how could you be sure to reap the benefits and rewards of marriage? How about you get married to whomever you want, register that marriage with the state and receive a certificate of marriage that is recognized by the federal government. Like they did before the government found a way to control who gets married. How about you dictate to them who you married, not the other way around. The state and federal government should not be able to dictate who you marry. Period.
We are all individuals and the government should treat us all the same. Marriage is necessary to protect certain aspects of society like children and surviving spouses. The only reason that we need to register as a couple at all is for the government benefits. The avenue’s to gain access to these benefits are not contingent on the marriage license. There would be no need to make any real changes to the system we already have in place. You would notify the same government offices, in the same way as you would right now.
Let’s put the power back into the hands of the people and get rid of the last vestiges of a racist, bigoted practice that is the marriage license. Little did you know that the license you are clamoring for and that is filed away in millions of homes around the country has roots more ugly than the confederate flag that can no longer be purchased on Amazon.com. Ironic, isn’t it.