Civil unions echo another episode of ‘separate but equal’

When presidential candidate Al Sharpton was asked about his views on gay marriage, he replied, “That is like asking do I support black marriage or white marriage.”

Mr. Sharpton’s words bring up an interesting question: What is the difference between the current debate over legalization

of gay marriage and interracial marriage debates of the past?

For hundreds of years, there were laws restricting the rights of blacks to freely choose to marry whomever they chose, regardless of race. In 1691, a Virginia marriage law banned

any white woman from marrying a black man. In 1705, Massachusetts criminalized interracial marriage, in 1721 Delaware followed suit, then North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

There once was a time when blacks were thought to be less than human, a time when slavery was accepted and when interracial marriage was an outrage that would “de-sanctify the sacrament of marriage.” When the opponents of interracial marriage were questioned about their obvious disregard for human rights, nine times out of 10 their defense included a biblical reference.

There are countless passages in the Bible that could be interpreted as passages accepting or even encouraging slavery, and although many citizens and leaders of our country accepted these ideas in the past, the notion of slavery has been branded as inhumane, cruel and a violation of human rights.

Interestingly enough, there are also several passages in the Bible that could be interpreted as condemning “homosexual behavior” and thus are often used in the argument to ban gay marriage and equal rights of homosexual Americans. I see very little difference between the two situations.

Before blacks were granted equal rights, we lived in a society of “separate but equal.” Conservatives argued that blacks had every accommodation that white people had and that the two races were just separate. Any level-headed American knows that blacks were, and in many cases still are, nowhere near equal to whites. Among countless other inequalities, blacks had substandard housing and were paid less than whites for the same work.

When President George W. Bush spoke out about gay marriage, he began by speaking about how we should accept the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community and then he quickly transitioned to speaking about how wrong gay marriage was. How can one speak of acceptance, tolerance and human rights and at the same time condemn one of the most cherished rights of Americans? By saying the GLBT

community deserves the respect of all Americans, but not having the respect to grant the GLBT community equal rights in marriage, is Bush not creating another “separate but equal” society where gay citizens are second class to straight citizens?

As I read about current events, hearing talks of civil unions and gay marriage rights, and the outrage it has created in the conservative community, I can’t help but feel an echo of the same “separate but equal” notions that were once so widely accepted. I fear one day I will wake up and realize that, like my parents and generations before once did, I am living in my own apartheid and no one around me seems to notice. Is the notion of a “civil union” any different from a “colored drinking fountain”?

Hanna Garth is a University alumna who lives in Fridley, Minn., and attends Rice University in Houston, Texas. She welcomes comments at [email protected]