In 1664, British Colonial Maryland ordered the enslavement of any white woman who married a black slave. In neighboring Virginia, whites who married blacks were “exiled,” which usually meant killed. The Supreme Court put an end to all that in 1967. Or should I say the Supreme Court did not finally put an end to it until 1967.
|An early gay basher.|
In 1779, Thomas Jefferson proposed a law to the Virginia State Assembly that would have mandated castration for gay men and mutilation of nose cartilage for gay women. Sodomy was a felony in most states until the Supreme Court got around to striking down those laws, in 2003.
Now the Court is considering whether a marriage of gay partners is not only not a crime but a fundamental right that may not be denied. During oral argument this week, Chief Justice Roberts said to the advocate for gay marriage: “All you’re interested in is the label.”
Roberts was addressing the case that arose in California, where civil unions are legal for gay men and women. With that option available, Roberts apparently thinks the label “married” shouldn’t be that important.
I doubt the Chief Justice has been called many unfavorable names in his life. I doubt he has been stigmatized. Perhaps he truly doesn’t understand the significance of labels in a culture. “Kike.” “Spic.” “Boy.” The little woman.” The way we use it today, to connote a lesser moral status than “married,” “civil union” is almost the language of hate.
Gay men and women are out of the closet now, but in broad swaths of the country they are about as well respected as were newly freed slaves in the Old South. Plenty of people still hate them. Thomas Jefferson proposed castration, for Pete’s sake. That’s a tough legacy to outlive.
The culture is changing. It will continue to change. One thing that will speed the process is for us to stop calling gay unions something different than heterosexual ones. Labels matter. They perpetuate stereotypes. They carry with them the sticky taint of disapprobation. John Roberts needs to come down off the high bench of his condescension and open the window to the fresh air.