Queer Issue 2012

Interracial Marriage

There's No Better Illustration of How Quickly Attitudes About Marriage Can Change

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Queer Issue 2012

He met his girlfriend's parents for the first time at an unremarkable restaurant in Pioneer Square. The year was 1995. What's so memorable about the occasion is how ordinary it was. He and his girlfriend showed up a little late. The restaurant was mostly empty. His girlfriend's mother sat next to her stepfather, and next to the stepfather sat her stepsister and her boyfriend. The food, the wine, and the conversation were all unexceptional. He learned about his girlfriend's parents, and they learned about him. All of this took about two hours, and at the end, the bill was settled by the stepfather. A year or so later, he and his girlfriend had a child, and not long after that, the two got married. All of this happened casually. There was no drama, no threats, no ultimatums. The two simply, quietly, effortlessly signed the paperwork that legally bound their relationship.

The man, of course, was me. I got married to a white woman, and this kind of union, an interracial union, happened without a hitch. In fact, I didn't expect any kind of hitch to happen. Not even for a second did it cross my mind, or hers, that there might be some resistance to our decision to marry. If someone on either side of our families objected to our marriage on the grounds of race, they would have completely caught us by surprise. Was this person out of their mind? Which planet did they live on? And if they were not an alien, did they not own a television or ever step out of their house? In our age and on this planet, scandal is more likely to arise from a considerable difference in age rather than a mere difference in race.

The strange thing in all of this, of course, is that interracial marriage was only fully legalized in the United States in 1967, two years before I was born (in an African-only hospital in what was then Qwe Qwe, Rhodesia). Even though this issue is full of queer writers writing about marriage and I am not queer, any discussion of changing attitudes about marriage has to include interracial marriage, as it's proof of how quickly attitudes toward marriage in America have changed before. In the current cultural atmosphere, it would be political suicide for a candidate of almost any public office to openly oppose interracial marriage. In the current cultural atmosphere, the union of a very white Heidi Klum and the very black Seal can be celebrated as one of the most perfect and happy marriages out there—indeed, what really upset and surprised people was not Seal and Klum's marriage, but the announcement of their divorce. Times sure have changed.

But let me point this out: My wife and I come from roughly the same class bracket. Her parents, like my parents, held advanced degrees and taught at universities or worked as professionals. As the geneticist Steve Jones has pointed out in several lectures and books, it is increasingly the case that class rather than race is the leading issue with interracial marriages. In London, for example, it's less shocking for a professional white woman to marry a professional black man than a professional white woman to marry a working-class white man.

But what does all of this tell us about the institution of marriage? It has never been stable. It is constantly changing. What many consider to be normal today—interracial marriage or even the marriage between an aristocrat and a commoner—was considered impossible, unnatural, ungodly not too long ago. Even monogamy hasn't always been stable; it's faced (and in some places, continues to face) competition from other modes: polygamy, polyandry, or simply no marriage at all. The only thing that's permanent about this important social institution? Marriage will always (and has always been) about the union of humans. recommended


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This is the best case yet.

This article just insists on being printed, cut out and posted up, and/or being forwarded to everyone you know.
Posted by Starmartyr on June 21, 2012 at 11:24 AM · Report this
ScienceNerd 2
I grew up in an extremely conservative town in Michigan. I remember two interracial couples in my town when I grew up, and I heard a lot of awful things said about them. These days, I know of a whole bunch more, and they are completely accepted, and truely not considered different than any other married couple. I look at that with a lot of hope, just like Charles, that one day gay couples in my home town will be just as "normal" as the interracial couples are.

This might sound a little horrible to Seattle people, but I think people are very lucky to live in this city. I have a hard time believing that anyone who grew up here knows exactly what it is like to be gay where I'm from. One time I was threatened by a group of five men in a local bar for dancing a slow song with another woman (she is married to a man and we have been best friends for decades). We feared for our safety, and it was just a friendly dance.

I get giddy when I see same sex couples walking down the streets of Capitol Hill hand in hand (I apologize for grinning at you like an idiot). I like to think one day it will be the same back home, and I know that it will because there was a day when two people of different races couldn't safely hold hands and walk down the street.

(I just realized this is really long and no one will probably read it.)
Posted by ScienceNerd http://stanichium.tumblr.com/ on June 21, 2012 at 3:34 PM · Report this
I read it, I agree, and I love your handle.
Posted by lblah on June 21, 2012 at 9:45 PM · Report this
And then you see the apartments entitled 'Asia' on the outskirts of Chinatown.
Posted by whoDoYouThink on June 22, 2012 at 2:03 AM · Report this
Thanks for sharing your story.
To add more context, I'd like to point out that
1) While some states--including California until 1948-- had laws on the books prohibiting both interracial relationships and interracial marriage, interracial marriage was never illegal here in Washington State.
Some families moved to our state for that reason. For those of us who grew up here in urban areas, interracial relationships/marriages were seen as a person's legal right should they have wished to make that decision.

2) The 1967 Supreme Court Decision (Loving v. Virginia) fundamentally struck down de jure bans on interracial relationships and marriages. The important thing was that states could no longer refuse to accept interracial marriages performed elsewhere.

3) What is really powerful for me is that Richard and Mildred Loving were regular working class people from the same community, not celebrities. They did not even come from the big city. Pregnant, they went to Washington, D.C. to get married. When they returned home to Virginia, they were arrested.
The Lovings' personal story has had long-lasting effects.
Before Mildred Loving died a couple of years ago, she stated that she believed in same sex marriage.

Posted by grilled cheese on June 23, 2012 at 12:51 PM · Report this
OutInBumF 6
All this hand-wringing over who can or cannot marry whom is nothing more than fear of 'The Other'. Perhaps such fear had purpose for our species 50,000 years ago, but not now- let's get over it.
Thanks, Charles.
Posted by OutInBumF on June 23, 2012 at 3:09 PM · Report this

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