Inter-racial and same-sex marriages. Issues with a history and a lesson.

Filed Under (Future of journalism, Story Idea) by on 12-09-2011 and tagged

Sept. 12 – The Gallup group released a survey today about American attitudes about marriage between whites and blacks.

The survey results shows positive steps forward:

Americans are approaching unanimity in their views of marriages between blacks and whites, with 86% now approving of such unions. Americans’ views on interracial marriage have undergone a major transformation in the past five decades. When Gallup first asked about black-white marriages in 1958, 4% approved. More Americans disapproved than approved until 1983, and approval did not exceed the majority level until 1997.

Of course, I still wonder about that remaining 14 percent. Surely the KKK cannot have that much support among the American electorate.

Then I looked more closely at the numbers.

The real progress and hope for America comes from the under generations under the age of 65.

The 18-29 year old group approves — or does not disapprove — of interracial marriages by a whopping 97 percent. Meanwhile, the grandparents (and in some cases parents) of those young people approve by only 66 percent.

This trend is mirrored in other social issues.

A Pew Center report on attitudes toward same-sex marriages matched anecdotal information and the Gallup survey of inter-racial marriage:

A plurality of seniors worry that gays and lesbians cannot be as good parents as other couples (by a 47% to 37% margin). By comparison, people under age 30 believe gay couples can parent just as well by a 69% to 29% margin.

So there is hope.

But let’s return to the Gallup survey and learn a bit about putting this whole thing in perspective. Or as we journalism instructors like to say: “Context.”

According to the Gallup survey, in 1968 about 20 percent approved of inter-racial marriage. That number is significant because just a year earlier the U.S. Supreme Court struck down anti-miscegenation laws in Loving v. Virginia.

In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court struck down the Virginia law that outlawed marriages between a white person and a black person. In his opinion handing down the court’s decision, Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote:

There can be no doubt that restricting the freedom to marry solely because of racial classifications violates the central meaning of the Equal Protection Clause.

These statutes also deprive the Lovings of liberty without due process of law in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.

Marriage is one of the “basic civil rights of man,” fundamental to our very existence and survival… To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discriminations. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual, and cannot be infringed by the State.

Very clear and direct writing. (Another example for journalists to follow.)

Journalists in Virginia and the Washington, DC area should pay attention to the Gallup survey with the Loving case in mind. The lawyer who argued the case for the Lovings was Bernard S. Cohen, a lawyer and former state legislator from Alexandria.

In 2007 — the 40th anniversary of the Loving decision — Cohen put the Loving case in the context of the current debate over same -sex marriages. He questioned the argument of “let the states decide” in 2007 as he did in 1967:

When the U.S. Supreme Court got Loving right, the polls showed 70 percent still opposed to interracial marriage. Imagine the injury to our nation if the Court had flinched, or if the opposition had prevailed with arguments like “let the people vote” or attacks on “activist judges,” and had cemented discrimination into our Constitution, as in Hawaii.

There is a lot to learn from history and many ways for journalists to take those lessons and apply them to today’s issues.

But first you have to know the history.

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