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)


Westminster Presbyterian Church Columbia, TN