Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Bigotry drags marriage back to Supreme Court

By LZ Granderson, CNN Contributor
March 27, 2013 -- Updated 1739 GMT (0139 HKT)
Supporters of same-sex marriage wave flags and signs as they rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday, March 27, in Washington. The justices heard two cases this week related to state and federal laws restricting same-sex marriage. Supporters of same-sex marriage wave flags and signs as they rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday, March 27, in Washington. The justices heard two cases this week related to state and federal laws restricting same-sex marriage.
HIDE CAPTION
Outside the Supreme Court
Outside the Supreme Court
Outside the Supreme Court
Outside the Supreme Court
Outside the Supreme Court
Outside the Supreme Court
Outside the Supreme Court
Outside the Supreme Court
Outside the Supreme Court
Outside the Supreme Court
Outside the Supreme Court
Outside the Supreme Court
Outside the Supreme Court
Outside the Supreme Court
Outside the Supreme Court
Outside the Supreme Court
Outside the Supreme Court
Outside the Supreme Court
Outside the Supreme Court
Outside the Supreme Court
Outside the Supreme Court
Outside the Supreme Court
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • LZ Granderson: In 1958, police arrested couple for violating interracial marriage ban
  • Virginia's ban was ultimately overturned, a sign of progress against bigotry, he says
  • He says that today bigotry and fear are directed at same-sex marriage
  • Granderson: Government shouldn't regulate the nature of relationships in marriage

Editor's note: LZ Granderson, who writes a weekly column for CNN.com, was named journalist of the year by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and is a 2011 Online Journalism Award finalist for commentary. He is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter: @locs_n_laughs.

Washington (CNN) -- Late one night, in the summer of 1958, three police officers opened an unlocked door of a small home in rural Virginia, walked into the bedroom and pointed a flashlight at a couple sleeping in the bed.

"What are you doing in bed with this lady?" the sheriff asked.

The startled husband pointed to the marriage certificate that was hanging on the wall.

LZ Granderson
LZ Granderson

"That's no good here," the officer replied.

And that night, in the summer of 1958, a husband, who happened to be white, and a wife, who happened to be black, were arrested and placed in a county jail for unlawful cohabitation.

That, as The New York Times recounted it, is how the landmark Supreme Court case known as Loving v. Virginia was started -- with bigotry looking at a marriage certificate and saying, "That's no good here."

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Today we know that in 1967 the Supreme Court ruled that Virginia's ban on interracial marriages was unconstitutional. But it's important to remember that a 2012 Pew Study found that only 63% of all Americans "would be fine" if a family member were to marry outside of their race, meaning nearly a third would still have a problem.

The laws have changed, but sadly, our culture in many aspects, still lags behind.

Which explains why once again bigotry has dragged marriage to the halls of the Supreme Court.

On Tuesday the justices heard oral arguments in Hollingsworth v. Perry, the challenge to California's Proposition 8. On Wednesday, the court is hearing oral arguments in United States v. Windsor, the case challenging the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA.

The fight over same-sex marriage

Both Proposition 8 and DOMA do what that sheriff did to the Lovings 55 years ago. Back then the legally sanctioned discrimination was called racism. Today it's homophobia. Both are offsprings from the same parents: bigotry and fear.

Before sentencing the Lovings to a year in prison, Leon M. Bazile, the county circuit judge, opined God placed the different races on separate continents "and but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages."

Edith Windsor's battle for equality

In an exchange with Chief Justice Earl Warren, R.D. McIlwaine, the assistant attorney general of Virginia, compared interracial couples to people who were mentally ill and said that "interracial marriages are definitely undesirable. ... (T)hey hold no promise for a bright and happy future for mankind."

Hindsight affords us the ability to shake our heads and laugh at the men who tried to hide their bigotry behind God or the future of mankind. But are the reasons against interracial marriages brought up by McIlwaine and Bazile that much different than the rationale that is being used today to ban same-sex marriages?

At a rally on the steps of the Supreme Court, I heard story after story from loving, committed same-sex couples who had been together 10, 20, 30, even 55 years. There were speakers such as Cleve Jones, who created the AIDS Memorial Quilt, and Robert Kabel, a special assistant to President Ronald Reagan who helped form the Log Cabin Republicans. There was one woman suffering from multiple sclerosis who had to be helped up the stairs to the podium by three men so she could stand next to her wife and share her story.

No one who came to the rally was asking for permission to love.

They were not seeking special rights or begging for a seat at the table because they've been sitting at the table the whole time.

They know 14 times the Supreme Court has called marriage a fundamental right. And just as Loving v. Virginia shamed bigotry and those who argued in support of discrimination, this week bigotry will once again be shamed, dragging those who seek to ban same-sex marriages with it.

Couple at center of Prop 8 case

An example of this shaming came in an exchange with Charles J. Cooper and Justice Elena Kagan. As Cooper propped up the notion of "responsible procreation" as being the reason why marriage should only be between a man and a woman, Kagan destroyed this reasoning, saying, "Suppose a state said, ... Because we think that the focus of marriage really should be on procreation, we are not going to give marriage licenses anymore to any couple where both people are over the age of 55," adding, "I can just assure you, if both the woman and the man are over the age of 55, there are not a lot of children coming out of that marriage."

Of course "responsible procreation" is just another ruse to hide bigotry. Gay couples don't become parents by accident. I know of one couple who wanted children so badly, they drove from Phoenix to Los Angeles every weekend for a year to spend time with the child they eventually adopted because gay adoption was not legal in Arizona.

If you do the math, that's about 740 miles round trip for 52 weeks, or 38,480 miles. So if "responsible procreation" is the fight Cooper wants to take up, he should direct his focus elsewhere because gay people don't accidentally drive 38,480 miles to have a kid.

What Cooper and his allies must remember is that marriage licenses are not scarce resources to be horded but a doorway to more than 1,000 federal benefits and the public declaration of love. And just as interracial marriages did not cause "traditional" marriage to fall -- something that was also said during Loving v. Virginia -- neither will same-sex marriages.

It wasn't right for anti-miscegenation laws to march into our bedrooms in the summer of 1958, and it's not right for Prop 8 and DOMA to do it now.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of LZ Granderson.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 0102 GMT (0902 HKT)
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1135 GMT (1935 HKT)
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1851 GMT (0251 HKT)
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2207 GMT (0607 HKT)
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0336 GMT (1136 HKT)
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0221 GMT (1021 HKT)
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 2033 GMT (0433 HKT)
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0442 GMT (1242 HKT)
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2043 GMT (0443 HKT)
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0858 GMT (1658 HKT)
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1700 GMT (0100 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2301 GMT (0701 HKT)
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1335 GMT (2135 HKT)
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 0208 GMT (1008 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 2004 GMT (0404 HKT)
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1307 GMT (2107 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 2250 GMT (0650 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
October 11, 2014 -- Updated 1543 GMT (2343 HKT)
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT