Same-Sex Marriage and Interracial Marriage: Not the Same Thing


An argument that is often pressed by proponents of same-sex marriage is that it presents just the same issue as interracial marriage.  On this view, opposition to same-sex marriage is just the same as opposition to interracial marriage by the bigots of yesteryear.  I don’t think this is a good comparison, and I argue the case here, at Public Discourse.

In addition to the arguments I make there, I would like to add a couple here.


In the first place, some proponents of same-sex marriage contend that the link to the issue of interracial marriage is so clear that if you accept the constitutional argument for one you must accept the constitutional argument for the other, and if you reject the constitutional argument for one you must reject the constitutional argument for the other.  Thus it has been said many times that if a person rejects the Court’s recent Obergefell ruling as an error, he must also reject the Court’s ruling in Loving v. Virginia (in which the Court struck down a law punishing interracial marriage).

The obvious weakness in this line of argument is that the 14th Amendment (on which the Court relied both times) was primarily intended, as everybody knows, to put a stop to racial discrimination.  In striking down a law that made the race of the person essential to the crime defined in the law, the Court was certainly not ranging abroad beyond the obvious, historically knowable intentions of the 14th Amendment.  But you can’t say the same about what the Court did in Obergefell.  The authors of the 14th Amendment did not have same-sex marriage in mind, and the Court in Obergefell does not even bother to pretend that they did.

Indeed, those who insist that there is a straight line between Loving and Obergefell are arguing for a position that the Supreme Court itself did not adopt in Obergefell.  If such a straight line could be drawn, if you could really deduce same-sex marriage from the ruling in Loving v. Virginia, the Court would have simply made that argument and ended its opinion.  But it did not do that.  It instead brought in a good deal about the right of privacy cases and how they bear on the question–cases that really don’t deal with questions of “discrimination” but the Court’s belief in a constitutional right to sexual liberty.

Another point, based not on constitutional law but simply on common observation of the people involved in these arguments, is also worth making.  It is a fact that the vast majority of people who oppose same-sex marriage do not oppose interracial marriage.  It is equally a fact that the vast majority of people who opposed bans on interracial marriage did not see themselves as setting the stage for same-sex marriage.  The latter issue was on almost nobody’s mind at the time.  For huge numbers of Americans involved in these issues, then and now, there is no necessary connection.

Of course, none of this proves the case against same-sex marriage.  It does not even prove that the proponents of same-sex marriage are doomed to fail in making the comparison to interracial marriage.  They are free to try to make it.  My only point is that they are going too far when they try to suggest that the connection is so obvious that they have a right to declare that you must really believe in one if you believe in the other.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of


About Author

Carson Holloway is a political scientist and the author of The Way of Life: John Paul II and the Challenge of Liberal Modernity (Baylor University Press), The Right Darwin? Evolution, Religion, and the Future of Democracy (Spence Publishing), and All Shook Up: Music, Passion and Politics (Spence Publishing), and the editor of a collection of essays entitled Magnanimity and Statesmanship (Lexington Books). His articles have appeared in the Review of Politics, Interpretation: A Journal of Political Philosophy, Perspectives on Political Science, and First Things. He is a regular contributor to the online journal The Public Discourse. Holloway was a 2005-06 William E. Simon Visiting Fellow in Religion and Public Life in the James Madison Program at Princeton University. He received his Ph.D. in political science from Northern Illinois University in 1998.

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