They argued that marriage belonged under the control of the states rather than the federal government. They insisted that such marriages were “unnatural” and contrary to God’s will. They spoke of tradition extending back to the founders of our nation.
The marriages they were talking about were interracial marriages, prohibited by colonists in 1661 and outlawed by many states until the Supreme Court’s 1967 ruling in Loving v. Virginia.
Nebraska, where I grew up, clung to its outrageous miscegenation laws until 1963. My father had friends who had to leave Nebraska to get married in Colorado. The bride was part Japanese and the groom Mexican American.
The earliest prohibitions were concerned entirely with preventing blacks from marrying whites. But by the early 20th Century, Nebraska and several other states had widened the scope “to interdictions against marriage between white men and Mongolians, Malayans, mulatto, or even American Indians,” in the words of a 1944 article in the California Law Review.
Such marriages were not only void but also subject to criminal penalties in most of the prohibiting states, and “all these consequences flow, if such unmixable people cohabit as man and wife – even though married in backward states like New York or Wisconsin or Pennsylvania where the marriage was legal,” the law review author noted. “Unmixable” people. “Backward” states allowing races to intermarry.
When I hear bigots today going on about gay marriage, I am comforted to think that in time their arguments will carry as much moral heft as those of the racist defenders of miscegenation laws.