Jewish Journal

Marriage Inequality: A Struggle that is Nothing New

by Lia Mandelbaum

April 16, 2013 | 2:10 pm

While researching information that pertains to the issues around gay marriage, I got a much better insight in to how the battle against marriage inequality is nothing new.  It seems to me that the present struggle over gay marriage rights is just another form of the same fight that has been going on globally for centuries.  While the circumstances of each fight may be different, there are common themes.  Some of the universal topics of debate have been:  whom it is okay to love; what kind of marriage is worthy of being recognized in the eyes of God; and whether being inclusive harms the well being of society.  People getting shunned by family members, friends and entire communities, for their choices surrounding a romantic partnership is nothing new.  Getting disenfranchised by society is nothing new.  Violence towards the populations going against the grain is nothing new. 

Nazi Germany

Anti-miscegenation during War War II in Nazi Germany was another part of their well-oiled and elaborate systems of brutality.  Miscegenation is the mixing of different racial groups through marriage, cohabitation, sexual relations, and procreation.  In September of 1935, the National Socialist government enacted an anti-miscegenation law as a part of the Nuremberg Laws, and the Protection of German Blood and German Honor Act was put into play.   The intention of the act was to forbid marriage and extramarital sexual relations between people regarded as non-Aryan and Aryan (persons of “German or related blood).  The term coined by the nation for extramarital intercourse was marked as Rassenchande (lit. race-disgrace) and could be punished by imprisonment – later usually followed by the deportation to a concentration camp, often entailing the inmate's death.  Many children born out of these “interracial” marriages were classified as Mischling (half-cast), and were sent to orphanages after their parents were arrested and sent to concentration camps.  These children were often forced to do hard labor work.  There had been cases where entire orphanages were gathered by the Nazis, and sent as a group to the concentration camps.   

Loving vs. Virginia

In 1958, a black woman named Mildred Jeter Loving, and a white man named Richard Loving, had left Virginia to exchange wedding vows in Washington D.C.  The couple was arrested in the middle of the night for violating the state’s law against interracial marriage, and was sentenced to a year in jail, but the sentencing was suspended as long the couple left the state and did not return together for 25 years.  Loving v. Virginia was a landmark civil rights decision of the United States Supreme Court, which struck down anti-miscegenation laws in Virginia and 15 other states.  A few states made it clear that they weren’t ready to let go of their discrimination by leaving the unenforceable laws on the books.  South Carolina did not remove its prohibitive clause until 1998, and Alabama held on to its ban until 2000.

Throughout the globe

Throughout the generations, anti-miscegenation laws have been practiced around the globe.   South Africa under apartheid had the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act; Egyptian law sees the marriage between an Egyptian man and an Israeli woman as an act of spying, and all marriages are reviewed to see whether to strip the men of their Egyptian citizenship; women in Saudi Arabia are prohibited from marrying men from outside the GCC countries; In France, under the King Louis XVI, as their black population increased, the Order of the Council of State of 5 April 1778, forbade "whites of either sex to contract marriage with blacks, mulattos or other people of color" in the Kingdom; In 836 AD, China had decree forbidding Chinese to have relations with other peoples such as Iranians, Arabs, Indians, Malays, Sumatrans, and so on.

Can we stop the pattern?

It is clear to me that the themes of oppression and dehumanization are weaved throughout all of the examples I have listed.  In a perfect world, one would hope that our society as a collective would rise above this pattern, yet it continues to exist and morph into its different circumstances.  Also in a perfect world, one would hope that someone who has been oppressed would stand up for the rights of another individual.  I often hear people talk about how being gay is not made in the image of God, and that gay marriage will destroy the sanctity of marriage.  I can't help but think to myself about how I wish they would recognize that there have been similiar arguments and harsh judgments made against their own minority group at one point.   

I don’t see this as a black and white issue, or a gay or straight issue.  This is a human rights issue and we all deserve to have a chance to live free of the bonds of oppression.   I see it as a call to action and an opportunity to increase the freedom and rights of another.

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Lia Mandelbaum is currently at Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles as their Director of Programming and Engagement.  She has a master’s and bachelor’s in social work from CSULA, and...

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