June 13, 2004
By Jonathan Rauch
On July 1 Virginia takes a big step backward, into the shadow of Jim Crow.
I do not write those words lightly or rhetorically. Although I’m an advocate of same-sex marriage, I have taken care not to throw around motive-impugning words such as bigotry, hate or homophobia. I have worked hard to avoid facile comparisons between the struggle for gay marriage and the struggle for civil rights for African Americans; the similarities are real, but so are the differences.
Above all, I have been careful to distinguish between animus against gay people and opposition to same-sex marriage. No doubt the two often conjoin. But millions of Americans bear no ill will toward their gay and lesbian fellow citizens, yet still draw back from changing the boundaries of society’s most fundamental institution. The ban on gay marriage in 49 states (Massachusetts, of course, being the newly minted exception) may well be unfair and unwise, as I believe it to be. Yet people of good conscience can maintain that although all individuals are equal, all couples are not.
If I seem to be splitting hairs, that is because Virginia — where my partner and I make our home — is not splitting hairs. It has instead taken a baseball bat to civic equality, thanks to the so-called Marriage Affirmation Act.