December 04, 2011

The false parallel between interracial and same-sex marriage

One of the chief tactics in the advocacy of same-sex marriage legalization is to point out the supposed parallel with interracial marriage bans.  I recently had two separate exchanges on the topic and this argument was the centerpiece of the discussion.  The argument is basically that discriminating based upon racial preference is really no different than discriminating based upon gender preference, and since we all now agree that interracial marriage is morally acceptable and should be legal, then there is really no moral or legal precedent for denying same-sex marriage.

Perhaps the argument has merit, but it depends upon the premise that race and gender are categorically the same – that two people of the same sex are socially and functionally the same as a man and woman of different races.  I’d like to show now that this is a false premise, and that the parallel between race and gender is only superficial and ignores the profound categorical difference between the two.

For my purposes I’ll take the liberty of distilling the featural differences between the races down to color, which seems uncontroversial since it is a common way of characterizing race.  This should be satisfactory unless one holds to the notion that the races are fundamentally different in some way other than superficial variations in appearance.  To disagree would seem to put one on the road of racism.

Let me begin with an analogy.  If I have a variety of black & white bolts and nuts, which is more meaningful to the nature of nuts and bolts: pairing two of the same color or pairing a nut and a bolt, no matter what the color?  In other words, is it really comparable to say that mixing colors in my nut/bolt sets is equivalent to mixing what two objects I make a set out of, e.g., two bolts?  We may certainly choose to make sets based upon color, but this is only done at the expense of the basic design purpose and the functional difference between nuts and bolts.

This analogy seeks to illustrate the categorical difference between appearance (color) and physical design.  Yes, gender is more complicated than nuts and bolts, and marriage is more than just fitting them together, but the argument being made by same-sex advocates is specifically making a parallel between color and gender, so any meaningful physical differences between the genders would seem to erode the argument.

There is indeed a fundamental difference between the sexes that transcends the superficiality of color differences – a difference upon which the very human species depends.  If your parents were black and white (or any other color combination) they could still have had you, but if they did not have nuts and bolts (so to speak), and had not employed them as designed, then that would have been the end of it (and of you).  Of course, there is always adoption or artificial insemination for those who insist on pairing “bolt” with “bolts” or “nut” with “nuts,” but these ultimately depend upon the intervention and services of the other gender.  By contrast, interracial couples lacked for nothing but acceptance.

Color is a functionally meaningless attributes, whereas there is no more fundamental differentiator among humans than gender.  In fact, you cannot even claim to represent humanity without offering an example of each as was done with the Pioneer Plaque.  If race were indeed equivalent to gender, then they could just as well have chosen to depict two men of different colors; or if gender were as inconsequential as race, then they could simply have presented a man on the plaque and left it at that.

To disagree with my categorical distinction is to suggest that color is just as important to sexual desire as gender.  But who has heard a heterosexual man say that he would rather have another man of the same race than a woman of a different race?  And the criterion for homosexuality seems to be a preference for the same gender no matter the color.  Gays themselves affirm that gender is the main thing – it is what defines homosexuality.  I have never heard of such a thing, but perhaps there is the odd fetishist out there who prefers some particular race above all gender considerations, but I think it is safe to say that gender is in a categorically different place from color.  Scientists seem to agree with me, since they rank color considerations as the least important factor in defining species, genus, family, etc.  Just image how absurd it would be to claim that grouping cardinals, tomatoes, and rubies because of color is just as meaningful as grouping them by categories of animal, vegetable, and mineral.

The upshot is that race and gender are categorically different things, where the categories are of different consequence and relevance to the institution of marriage.  Color is a mere cosmetic property, whereas gender relates to a physical distinction that has always been the prerequisite of marital unions and is necessary for the families that result.  Interracial marriage bans were primarily about maintaining racial purity, which presupposes the success of a traditional marriage that is based upon the foundation of gender distinctions.  Traditional marriage is about bringing the two distinct genders into a committed, loving relationship resulting in an unparalleled union that is truly and fully human.

“Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE, and said, ‘FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH’?” (Jesus, quoting Genesis 2:24, from Matthew 19:4-5)



At 12/21/2011 3:57 PM, Blogger DagoodS said...

Well…yes and no.

I agree it is not an exact 1:1 correlation between interracial and same-sex marriage. Of course, comparisons are rarely that easy. (Can we say there is an exact 1:1 correlation between discrimination of any listed characteristic—marital status, gender, race, creed, religious belief, gender preference, etc.? Perhaps close, but the very reason we enumerate those various categories is the differences are necessary to accentuate.)

However, there is certainly a historical analogy that can be drawn from comparing same-sex marriage to inter-racial marriage.

1) At one time inter-racial marriages were banned by laws implemented in the process of majority rule. Those laws were over-turned by the courts, in spite of majority preference.

2) At one time inter-racial marriages were considered abhorrent, against societal norms and even immoral. Times change. Statistics have likewise shown steady increase in support for same-sex marriage.

3) At one time if we saw an inter-racial marriage, we stopped and stared. Now, little is thought of it. While not there yet when it comes to homosexual couples, we are making in-roads.

4) Other countries led before the United States in allowing inter-racial marriages. Likewise, other countries are leading us in same-sex marriage.

5) We can look back over history and see how society’s position on inter-racial marriages changed from disgust, to reluctant acknowledgement to apathy. We see how same-sex marriage appears to be following the same course.

Yes, Paul, you can pick out legitimate differences. Because same-sex marriage IS different than inter-racial marriage. (Otherwise the laws allowing inter-racial marriage would equally allow same sex marriage.) The question is whether the similarities outweigh the differences enough that history becomes instructive.

At 12/22/2011 7:51 PM, Blogger Paul said...

I acknowledge many historical analogies, though I could point out some meaningful differences in the examples you cite. However, relying on historical analogies (even very many of them) can be rather problematic. After same-sex marriage is passed into law, can we not then say that polygamy is next on the list according to your examples? How about marriage to, or between, children? And if such analogies are meaningful, then perhaps we should require all restrooms to be uni-sexed, because discriminating between male & female restrooms is similar to having separate ones for people of different colors.

I think that the similarities ought to be more qualitative than quantitative in nature. Both cyanide and aspirin can be white, come in tablet form, and be consumed orally. Some differences make all the difference. And that is the point of my blog post: “Race and gender are categorically different things, where the categories are of different consequence and relevance to the institution of marriage.” Some historical analogs may exist, but I believe that they are trumped by the essential differences between the things that history has here under its consideration.

At 12/23/2011 8:23 AM, Blogger DagoodS said...


Thanks for the response. Obviously, I was not part of these conversations, but I wonder if you and your counter were talking past each other.

You believe gay sex is immoral. (Not homosexuality per se, but the actual act itself.) [Note: I am NOT trying to put words in your mouth. Just my understanding of your position. If I say something incorrectly, please point it out. Thanks.]

Those supporting gay sex do not.

So…we can point out similarities and differences all day. We can make bullet lists, power-points and youtube presentations until we are blue in the face. It boils down (in my opinion) to that one large difference. Regardless of similarities/differences between inter-racial marriage and same-sex marriage, or same-sex marriage and any other marriage…the ONE difference outweighing them all is that the gay sex occurring within same-sex marriage you find immoral.

Therefore, when we are comparing inter-racial marriage to same-sex marriage, we are comparing two things that are moral or non-moral. Look, I don’t prefer gay sex. But there are quite a few sexual acts performed between monogamous, heterosexual couples I equally do not prefer. The same way I am not against those acts, I am equally not against gay sex.

So when I take moral questions out of the picture, then I think the comparison of civil rights to marry the person of your choice regardless of color are equal to marrying the person of your choice regardless gender.

If, however, you believe one of those situations results in immorality, I would say it obvious you would NOT consider it an equal comparison—the very fact one is immoral takes it out of the running.

So when we compare same-sex marriage to inter-racial marriage, we are using a different barometer than you are. Resulting in us talking past each other. We see similarities because both types are moral; you see a difference because one type is immoral.

You can discuss nuts and bolts, pictures in space, etc. all you want, but don’t you think it comes down to that? If you thought gay sex was moral or non-moral, would you still be against same-sex marriage?

Paul: After same-sex marriage is passed into law, can we not then say that polygamy is next on the list according to your examples?

*shrug* Possibly. Thus the nature of laws. ALL laws, once implemented, allow for future ramifications. Once you raise the speed limit to 65 mph, can’t it be raised to 75 mph? Then 80, 90, 150? We could say this about every single item we prohibit/allow—once implemented it ALWAYS allows for further prohibition/allowances.

The biggest problem with polygamy, frankly, is the impact on other laws. (divorce, beneficiaries, deductions, etc.) It would make a mess of our family courts, probate courts and tax laws.

Paul: How about marriage to, or between, children?

Define child. Did you know there are different ages, and different requirements even within the United States? Interesting topic to discuss—at what age do we stop protecting people as too young to make decisions for themselves (movies, video games, smoking, drinking, voting, pornography, contracts, medical decisions, etc.)?

At 12/24/2011 1:42 PM, Blogger Paul said...

My objection is more complex than simply being against homosexual acts, and I could make my case on either transcendent moral grounds or materialistic grounds. Suffice it to say here that my primary problem is not that people engage in acts that are deemed immoral (or that I just don’t “prefer”), but that certain acts are considered morally, physically, and/or psychologically neutral (indeed, celebrated) and given full legal and societal acceptance and have social consequences.

I’ve never seen the Dr. Oz Show, but being home on vacation I happened to catch a segment of it Friday. On it was a morbidly obese woman who was making money as an internet “model” for men who have an obesity fetish. Apparently it is her goal to become the fattest woman in the world. Perhaps it will help you to understand me when I say that the thing I found most disturbing in all this was that she resisted all of Dr. Oz’s attempts to convince her that she was subject to any health risks. Imagine if she were additionally suggesting that school children should be taught the joys of 10,000 calorie diets and that obesity is just as wholesome as physical fitness.

You’re right that it boils down to the question of moral and social acceptability. All these same-sex defenses are just so much distraction in, my mind. You’re right that the bottom line is that supporters do not believe same-sex relations to be immoral, so the fact that there are categorical differences between race and gender is of no real concern. I take issue with the comparison because it is offered up as a legitimate, rational defense, and since “haters” like me are alleged to be the irrational ones, then I am inclined to confront these “reasons” as they are offered up.

In the end these kinds of arguments are only tactically employed and abandoned for another when found wanting. However, regardless of what I personally think about same-sex marriage, the point made in my blog is still valid. It is possible to be right about something, yet advance a bad argument (or vice versa). I believe that same-sex marriage advocates are both wrong and advance bad arguments. But I am convinced that this issue is not about reason, but about preference. And you cannot defeat preference unless you are committed to moral and rational principles above all things. Few are. Some do not even have the philosophical resources to make sense of a thing like moral principles.

As far as your comments on polygamy and the age of consensual rights, I don’t want to get side tracked here. My point was to show that there are things with which even you would probably take issue that could be justified according to the historical similarity point you offered. Do you really need me to say something like “7 year old children” for my point to be clear? I’m merely reacting to your original comment. If we can go down a path that eventually hits a brick wall, then that logical path can only be pressed so far.

Even where the issues in question are clearly of an identical nature, like 2 different speed limits, there are still reasonable boundaries. Reasonable parties of goodwill may argue over a speed limit of 65 vs. 75 mph, but few would suggest we consider 150. Even so, once set at 65, it still warrants discussion and justification for 75 and is not enough simply to say, “We’ve been through all this before. People were against 65 mph, too, and we’re all happily driving that speed now.”

My argument is that interracial marriage vs. same-sex marriage is not at all like just another 10 clicks on the speedometer. They are categorically different with two different sets of concerns that share only superficial similarities. It is as you point out: the bottom line is whether or not same-sex marriage in itself should be considered normative. That seems to me to be argued most pointedly by the simple fact that people want to do it. But desire is thin moral broth.

At 12/27/2011 11:35 AM, Blogger DagoodS said...


Let me try to explain it this way…

We are often presented with situations by clients. Those situations very, very rarely precisely conform with exact parallels to previous cases decided by our appellate courts. Only on rare occasions can we find an exact duplicate in a previous court decision.

Instead, we find similar situations in previous court decisions. Perhaps our client was demoted based upon her age, but we find a similar case where the court ruled firing someone based upon their age was discrimination. Being demoted is similar, but not parallel to being fired. Or we find a case where the contracts were signed on a weekend, and our case is about contracts signed on a holiday. Similar but not parallel.

Now, a very common tactic for opposing counsel is to claim those the court decisions we are relying upon are SO dissimilar, that the legal decision made would not be applicable to our present situation. It is called ”distinguishing” a case.

Here, those supporting same-sex marriage are relying upon the precedent of laws allowing inter-racial marriage. Specifically, Loving v Virginia. We are NOT saying they are exactly parallel; we are performing the very standard function of applying similar case decisions to our own particular matter. We are saying, “For the same legal reasons Loving allowed inter-racial marriage, we should allow same-sex marriage.”

(The history of Loving is very instructive. Particularly the trial court opinion claiming inter-racial marriage as immoral. The parallel to our present situation is striking.)

Now, you are perfectly justified in claiming Loving should not apply; you are within your right to “distinguish” Loving from same-sex marriage. In your blog entry, you begin to do so by claiming there is a “substantive difference between them [inter-racial marriage and same-sex marriage] in matters of love, marital covenant, and family.” This is exactly how to start off distinguishing Loving. However, you then veer off, talking about nuts and bolts (design?) and pictures in space. This is where your argument faded.

Instead you would need to specifically address the areas you claim are distinguished:

How is inter-racial marriage different than same-sex when it comes to love?
How is inter-racial marriage different than same-sex when it comes to marital covenant?
How is inter-racial marriage different than same-sex regarding family?

Simply saying “race” is not the exact same as “gender” is not enough. We know that already. What we are looking for is how to apply precedents that are not precisely and exactly parallel, but have enough similarity to give us direction.

Finally, it is important to note Perry V Schwarzenegger DID rely upon Loving in its decision—bolstering your counter’s position there is sufficient similarity between inter-racial marriage and same-sex marriage…when it comes to legal decisions…to rely upon the legalization of inter-racial marriage when discussing the rights to same-sex marriage.

Paul, your strongest argument is still the question of immorality. If homosexual sex is immoral, regardless of legal precedents, it should be banned. And if homosexual sex is made illegal, then same-sex marriage will fail as well. This attempt to distinguish Loving because gender is not the same as race…well…it fails to understand how legal precedents work, or how law is generally applied.

At 1/08/2012 12:40 PM, Blogger Paul said...

I think you’ve found a genuine weakness in my post. I said that “[the argument] depends upon the premise that race and gender are categorically the same – that there is no substantive difference between them in matters of love, marital covenant, and family.”

The second part of that statement comes from my exposure to advocates who claim that this is all that marriage is about. In fact, many are only concerned to argue that all that is required to make a proper marriage is “love,” but of course that opens up a host of questions to beg and that was not my concern here. Marriage being all about “love, marital covenant, and family” is really another argument that is concerned with the nature of marriage itself, which, of course, presumes that there is such a thing as intrinsic natures to things in this world to begin with.

I should have stayed with the focus of this post and said something like, “it depends upon the premise that race and gender are categorically the same – that two people of the same sex are socially and functionally the same as a man and woman of different races.” This would have more naturally flowed into the rest of my post, which focuses on the nature of color vs. gender. However, by mentioning “family” there was some implicit connection made.

If advocates convince the public that the relevant criterion is “love” or “having two thumbs,” then, besides making marriage out to be an arbitrary and purposeless institution for which the state has questionable interest, then we lose any principled grounds for excluding polygamists, siblings, and monkeys.

I have no doubt that the courts will find a way to legalize same-sex marriage (as they already have in some places) based upon perceived rights or similarities to other cases. This is because members of the courts are neither free from agenda nor consistently committed to moral principle above the desires of political constituents. For this reason I hope you’ll understand if I prefer to argue based upon reason and moral principle alone rather than connecting the dots of court cases. It is not my contention that everything that is found legal is moral, though in a relativistic world I’m not sure that such a distinction can be made.

At 9/06/2012 4:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have nothing against those people who likes someone even if they have the same sex. I truly respect their views in life and the way they want to express themselves. Life is a matter of choices and these people who have chosen this kind of relationship or situation should be respected in the best way as possible. I have these kind of people here in my ignition interlock installers team, and I am so proud of them and I love them.

At 9/06/2012 7:09 AM, Blogger Paul said...

Can't tell if this is spam for your web site or a genuine comment.

This is not about respect or value for persons. We can still value persons and be civil to them no matter what their lifestyle or choices. I have issues with cigarette smoking, but I still love the friends and family who engage in it.

Saying that "life is a matter of choices" and that this is just one of those choices is a vacuous justification. Would you then support serial murder because that's just another choice in life's equation?

I'd also point out that homosexuals tend to reject the characterization that this is about "choice." In their minds, the notion that they are "born that way" seems to give more comfort and justification.

At 9/10/2012 11:16 PM, Blogger Paul Muriello said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 9/15/2012 9:19 PM, Blogger Paul said...

Paul M,

You say, "the distinction between [race and sex] is meaningless when it comes to the ethics of marriage."

I wonder just what you believe the "ethics of marriage" to be. I would first have to hear that, and weigh it, before I could assess whether same-sex marriage qualified in the same way that interracial marriage does. Of course, as you say, you can't presuppose the existence of a deity and any religious moral principles in your definition. I wonder what principles you will appeal to that are based upon more than your opinions or cultural fashions. You can't just assert things like marriage to monkeys is immoral because they can't "consent," or incest is okay so long as there's "no procreation," or polygamy is wrong because of a "power imbalance," and then expect the world to agree with either your ethical criterion or your conclusions.

At 9/19/2012 8:15 PM, Blogger Paul Muriello said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 12/04/2012 8:08 AM, Blogger DagoodS said...

Happy Anniversary.

At 11/07/2015 7:21 AM, Blogger Anonymous said...

Marriage is garden where we water each others.


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