Why is Racism Different?

A few weeks ago, conservatives rushed to support Brendan Eich, so if we are consistent, why shouldn’t we defend Donald Sterling too? One could argue that even if the First Amendment does not apply, it is morally objectionable for a person to be deprived of his livelihood for his beliefs–even if they are demonstrably wrong. After all, there are many people who–notwithstanding the biological facts which underlie marriage–argue that the defense of marriage as a sexually complementary union is simply wrong and should not be tolerated. So why is racism different? Why shouldn’t we feel obliged to defend Donald Sterling?

Sterling with his erstwhile mistress (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Sterling with his erstwhile mistress (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

In both this and the Brendan Eich affair the First Amendment clearly has no bearing. Corporations can prohibit their employees from speaking in any manner of ways as a condition of employment. This is not a free speech issue, but a question of how far we can and should go in preventing workplace discrimination. The comparison is useful, because both Brendan Eich and Donald Sterling were/are the heads of their respective organizations. Both have attracted unwanted publicity for their organizations and, like Brendan Eich, Donald Sterling has been banned from the NBA for life. However, that is where the similarities end.

Marriage is an expression of biological fact. The begetting of life requires male and female to unite as one. This is indisputable. Contrariwise, racism is a form of discredited pseudoscience as valid as phrenology or astrology. There are some fringe groups who believe that the races are inherently different, but the disparities which have been well observed by social scientists have nothing to do with biology. Any difference between races is a complex mix of many factors of history, economics, and culture. Moreover, individuals within a given race may have very little in common besides the color of their skin–if even that. On the other hand, virtually all men have a Y chromosome and virtually all women do not and it is precisely this distinction and this distinction alone which forms the very essence of all their other differences. This is simply not true of any two individuals from different races.

There is also a difference between defending marriage and being a homophobe. Defending marriage does not degrade individuals who have same-sex attraction. We may disagree on the meaning of equality, but we can all agree that people should be regarded equally in the eyes of the law and of society. The fact that there are differences between the sexes does not affect their dignity as human beings. It is preposterous to argue that larger restrooms or maternity leave policies which are more generous for women than for men somehow degrade the dignity of women. These are merely an expression of observable reality. Racism on the other hand is precisely so pernicious because it consists entirely of an attack the dignity of the human person. Every stereotype and every prejudice is a rejection of what we can observe for ourselves and substitutes error for truth.

Job discrimination is wrong and it's illegal

Job discrimination is wrong and it’s illegal

Moreover, it is clear that Donald Sterling allowed his views to influence his actions towards others. There is no law against being rude or bigoted, but there are laws against discrimination in housing and employment. Donald Sterling has been investigated by the Justice Department because of his actions, not because of his speech. This is perhaps the most important distinction. People like Donald Sterling and Paula Deen get into trouble not because they perpetuate gross racial stereotypes, but because they carry their views into action towards their employees. Brendan Eich did no such thing. Indeed, the company which he founded attracted and nurtured a workforce whose very diversity proved to be his undoing.

Mozilla and the NBA are both faced with negative publicity. The NBA also faced the loss sponsorhips and even the possibility of a general player strike. As a business decision, it makes sense for them to eliminate the source of problem. However, there is one more difference which is especially disconcerting.  Brendan Eich was forced to resign for a single instance of speech which only recently became politically dangerous. Brendan Eich’s forced resignation for joining in an active, ongoing, and vigorous public debate is unprecedented. On the other hand, Donald Sterling is not the first instance of a public figure to suffer dire consequences for espousing racial bigotry. Marge Schott, owner of the Cincinnati Reds faced similar actions.

As is so often the case, Sterling’s fall from grace has been preceded by a long train of abuses and misbehavior which demonstrate that he is utterly unrepentant and unlikely to change his views–which are not merely unfashionable, but morally wrong. Donald Sterling was banned from the NBA for life because he violated a longstanding and broad public consensus that such overt and public displays of racism are simply not acceptable. Despite this, Donald Sterling’s punishment is less severe than that of Brendan Eich, because even if the other NBA owners collectively force him to sell the Clippers, Sterling will still stand to benefit financially from the sale.

Without question, the First Amendment protects all forms of speech in public debate, but those protections do not necessarily extend to the workplace. That said, banishing racism entirely from the face of the earth is an impossible task. We cannot police the innermost thoughts of every person on the globe. As long as there are superficial differences between groups of individuals, there will always be stereotypes which erroneously apply certain characteristics of a group to all of its members. This is as true of skin pigment as it is of religious belief. Just as we cannot stamp out racism by making everyone the same race, we cannot stamp out the freedom of religious expression by making everyone follow the same religion or none at all. 

It is now taken for granted by a large proportion of our society that defenders of marriage are vile bigots who should be treated as enemies of mankind. However, unlike matters of race, there is not a broad consensus for redefining marriage. This is the reason that liberals insist on linking same-sex marriage to race as a continuation of the civil rights movement. In order to give legitimacy to their cause, marriage advocates need to be marginalized just as racial bigots like Donald Sterling rightly are today. If we are to remain a free society which respects the rights of every individual, we must balance the right to hold unpopular views against the scourge of dehumanizing racial discrimination, which ultimately will fall somewhere in the fuzzy gray middle ground between Brendan Eich and Donald Sterling.

  • sad_coyote

    Anyone who cannot have children should be forbidden marriage rites. As a matter of fact, we should make it mandatory to have couples fertility tested before we allow them to marry. Rather like the blood test idea only a little more invasive and rude. If one or both are sterile, no marriage rite! At least this way if someone is biologically unable to have kids, they won’t be able to get married and defraud the Church on the procreation thing. Obviously elderly people getting married is out of the question. BTW, why has the church EVER allowed elderly people to get married? I had a relative who was a widow and she remarried at 65 years of age. OBVIOUSLY she would not be having kids. I think they need to get on this issue, right now. The idea of people marrying solely for companionship and love must be offensive to God. I know it’s offensive to me (tongue in cheek in a very big way).

    • MominVermont

      Dear “sad coyote,”
      Any couple who cannot provide a mother and a father for children “should be forbidden marriage rites.” The couple doesn’t need fertility (they could adopt), but they do need gender diversity.

      In contrast, male “marriage” discriminates against women and deprives children of a mother. Female “marriage” discriminates against men and deprives children of a father.

      Marriage is gender-integrated. But same sex “marriage” by its very nature, is sexist.

    • Slats

      You are aware, right, that the Church certainly allows anyone incapable of having children to get married? However, they must be able to have normal, natural marital relations.

  • Del Agda

    If marriage is only about loving and compassion for each other then no one can stop me from marrying my mother whom I deeply love and besides my mother is a widow. Marriage is not only about love and compassion for each other or about procreation, marriage is more than these.

  • George

    If job discrimination is wrong and illegal, why did you support the bill in Arizona which would have strengthened the right of employers to fire people for being gay?

    • Joshua Mercer

      The Arizona bill dealt not with employment, but with economic transactions. It protected the right of a baker or photographer to NOT participate in a same-sex “wedding.”

  • Sean Argir

    “Marriage is an expression of biological fact. The begetting of life requires male and female to unite as one. This is indisputable. ”

    I thought marriage was about loving and caring for each other and not about sexual acts for procreation?

    Marriage is about 2 people taking care of each other through compassion and understanding. A man can do that with a woman or even another man as such a woman can do that with a man or even a man.

    I am for homosexual marriage. If a heterosexual does not like homosexual marriages then they shouldn’t get one rather than imposing their own opinion upon those who wan to marry the same gender.

    So, in essence, marriage is not an expression of the biological fact. But rather it is the expression of the love and compassion stated above. People can procreate without ever getting married.

    • Brian

      “I thought marriage was about loving and caring for each other and not about sexual acts for procreation?”

      Loving and caring is only part of it. The other part is pro-creation.

      Why would the government get involved if marriage was only about loving and caring for somebody? That seems rather silly.

      The government realized that marriage was a good way to legally bind a husband and wife for the good of any children that might come from the marrital act. Without the legal bond, it would be very easy for one side to walk away. This has been demonstrated with the destructive idea of no-fault divorce. The purpose of government’s involvement in marriage was forgotten, or perhaps intentionally disegarded, when no-fault divorce came to be. The effect has been to reduce marriage to simply agreeing to “love and care” for another person until you no longer want to love or care for that person.

      I haven’t looked into it, but I wonder if the same people/groups behind the move for no-fault divorce are also behind the push for “homosexual marriage.” It would not surprise me if this was the case.

      “If a heterosexual does not like homosexual marriages then they shouldn’t get one…”

      It is not a matter of “liking” them, it is a matter of whether or not it is even a physical reality/possibility (I believe marriage should, at the very least, have the possibility of being a fruitful union which no homosexual act can ever be) and whether or not the government should concern itself with who loves who. The government has no standing to regulate/legislate/keep tabs on who loves who. It does, however, have standing when it comes to the welfare of children which is why it got involved in marriage in the first place.

      “People can procreate without ever getting married.”

      From what I have seen, people can love without ever getting married, too. Also, unless you are living under a rock, you will have noticed that procreation within marriage is generally better for children than procreation without marriage.

      • Sean Argir

        Marriage is not about procreation. There is no law that stipulates that for. Otherwise it would be illegal by law to procreate outside of marriage and also to never procreate after getting married.

        Plain and simple. This shows that marriage is about loving and compassion for each other and not for procreation.

        • Max

          The marriage institution is invented on the basis that men and women procreate and raise the next generation.

          It has been like that on the 5 continents for millennia, in civilizations that didn’t know one another.

          Of course procreation and rising up of the next generation does not always happen. People can get married for all sorts of reasons. But we are talking of the *meaning* of an institution here.

          B. O’Neill, a non-beliver, is crystal-clear on the subject:


          Racism is different. It was invented by a few groups of people, self-appointed “superior”, to exploit other people savagely. But it never had any objective basis.

        • Caro

          And… Last time I checked it – a natural baby is created between a woman AND man. No one is saying that love is not part of a relationship, but remember What the government gives, they can take away and what God gives, no one can take away. If the government is giving people the “right” to love each other, that’s just rather scary.

    • TM

      If the people of a state, through legislative process (as opposed to judicial fiat) wish to codify marriage as the union of any two individuals who proclaim their desire to enter into such a union, so be it. The state has no way of determining whether they are in love so I’m not sure what the fundamental nature of marriage as a public contract is in that context, but it is true that the state has a legitimate interest in insuring that a child of that union will have the deck stacked in factor of having his needs and expenses met. Be that as it may, what is disturbing is the possibility that people who do not support same-sex unions, by cause of religious belief or plain logic or other reason, would be compelled by law to participate in the validation of these unions. The day will come soon when a court rules that the Catholic Church can be compelled to officiate for such a ceremony since refusal to do so constitutes a violation of the couple’s rights under the law. So that will be one more weapon to use against the Church, in the form of whatever penalty will be exacted when the Church, as it must, declines to comply. I know folks will jump all over me for saying this and declare that I’m reactionary and that couldn’t happen here. Nobody hopes they’re right more than I do, but current indicators aren’t good.

    • Slats

      Sean, I would hope that you would have love and care for everyone around you, and I would hope that everyone reading this blog, and everyone in the world, would do that. Marriage is different. You don’t marry thousands of people. You marry one person. And the purpose and character of marriage is that that one person is the person with whom you have a sexual and/or romantic bond. That’s why you choose that one person and reject all others. Just because someone is your best friend, and you love and care for them, it almost certainly wouldn’t enter your mind to marry them – unless you were also sexually attracted to them. People with solely opposite gender attractions are not going to enter into a same gender “marriage,” because they wouldn’t be sexually attracted to a person of the same gender. People with solely same gender attractions would not be inclined to enter into a marriage with person of the opposite gender, because they wouldn’t be sexually attracted to that person. This is why people with same gender attractions want there to be same gender marriage. If it was just about loving and caring, they would cheerfully marry people of the opposite gender. It is not. It’s a sexual and romantic phenomenon which is based in one’s sexual attractions.

      With all respect that is due to you as a child of God, one of two things *must* be true: 1) You concede the obvious reality that marriage is most basically founded in sexual attraction, since that’s the very reason why people with same gender attraction want same gender marriage to exist, or 2) you’re lying.

      With that out of the way, sexual attraction is a motivation toward performing sexual acts with a person. Which parts of the body are basically involved in sexual acts? That’s right, the reproductive system. What is the purpose of that system? Reproduction! To produce new human beings! Can two females naturally do that? No, they cannot. Can two males naturally do that? No they can not. The reproductive system is built for two people of the opposite gender to produce new human beings. A same gender attraction is a desire to use a system of the body for something other than it was naturally designed. Sexual attraction is, in healthy and psychically normally-functioning human beings, ended toward reproduction. That means that, when an individual’s sexual attractions are directed towards people of the same gender, something within that person – psychologically, hormonally, cranially, whatever – is objectively malfunctioning. Saying that is not being mean or hateful or discriminatory, but rather exercising the common sense which all of us have. Since a) the desire for marriage is founded in sexual attraction, and b) normally-functioning sexual attraction is directed toward people of the opposite gender, then both c) marriage is by its nature associated with reproduction (even if it doesn’t always result in that) and d) marriage is of its essence between a man and a woman.

      As others have pointed out, since new people come into the world through marriage (between a man and a woman), then society has an interest in protecting that bond – hence all of the benefits that accrue to marriage between a man and a woman.

      When two people of the same gender clamor for a right to marry one another, they are asking society to say that their attraction, which comes out of the dysfunction of some psychic system, is equal to a normal and natural attraction which is ended toward bringing new human beings into the world. It’s an Emperor’s New Clothes proposition. It’s like me protesting that the NBA is violating my rights by not letting me make a living playing professional basketball, when I am slow, short, can’t jump, and can’t shoot. If I sue the NBA and win, and basketball courts are flooded with people like me who can’t really play the game of basketball, then the product of the sport of basketball is ruined. I have succeeded in destroying it by getting the civil courts to agree that it isn’t based on talent. Likewise, if I sue to be able to “marry” someone of the same gender and win, I hurt marriage by forcing society to say that two people asking for recognition of a relationship based on the dysfunction of a psychic system which is not ended toward what marriage is ended toward, are up to the exact same thing as two people who are entering into a bond out of a natural attraction who deserve legal supports because their relationship of its nature could introduce new human beings into society. We don’t have to wait for studies, outcomes, and results. The public, societal, and philosophical declaration has already crippled marriage by lying about its meaning. And to put it bluntly, your assertions in these comments already provided abundant evidence of that.



Receive our updates via email.