By Bradford Greer
It could be the rich color of the skin, the construction of facial features, the texture of the hair, the walk, the attitude, the demeanor that turns your head. Or perhaps it’s the confidence, the intelligence, the personality, smile, or the eyes that hold your attention. Who can say what sparks the attraction of one human being to another. It’s true: the heart wants what the heart wants.
Imagine Paula Barros at home in bed sleeping peacefully with her wife Kristen Csizmesia. Paula is Brazilian and Kristen is white. They have been together since they were introduced by a mutual friend on August 24, 1988. They married on August 24, 2013, which is also Kristen’s father’s birthday. Paula’s family has never cared about race or Paula’s white girlfriends. They were more concerned about her sexual orientation. Kristen’s family was also concerned about her being gay but not about Paula’s race. They had a small wedding of about 20 friends and went to a restaurant to celebrate. They do not have a big life; they have each other.
Suddenly there is a loud crash. Two police officers knock down their bedroom door, drag them both out of bed and throw them in jail. It is illegal for same sex couples to marry in their state, and now they have a criminal record.
Fortunately this has not happened to Paula and Kristen, who have been happily married in Rhode Island, a state that does recognize same-sex marriage.
But this has happened before. In 1958 the police raided the home of Mildred and Richard Loving in the middle of the night while the interracial couple was in their bed. They were arrested and thrown in jail for violation of Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act. Mrs. Loving was five months pregnant and would be considered a felon for the rest of her life. Judge Leon Bazile told them, “Almighty God created the races and put them on separate continents. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.” That, apparently is what the state of Virginia called “racial integrity” in 1958. The case went before the Supreme Court and on June 12, 1967, in a unanimous decision, Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote: “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,” and “under our Constitution, the freedom to marry or not to marry a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the state.”
It’s June 2015, and the Supreme Court will once again be determining who has the right to wed legally and to have those rights respected in every state of the union. Whichever way the Supreme Court votes, people will still feel the same way they did before, says Paula. “In some parts of Brazil people are still very close-minded about being gay. It’s better in the large cities. You think it’s bad here? Go there. Not so very much for women but very much so for men in your everyday life.”
In some places in the American South what is worse than being considered gay or unattractive is dating interracially. Writer Glenn Garner posted in August 2014, “Living in a state [Mississippi] where a majority of the population does not accept us can condition us to not accept ourselves. This self-shame prevents us from accepting other minorities as well.”
Reggie and Kevon
Kevon and Reggie Tucker-Sealey met in St. Louis 17 years ago. The bars were often segregated then: blacks on one side, whites on the other. A foster child, Kevon grew up in a racially diverse home. Reggie’s family had already broken the color barrier with a mixed-race marriage. Kevon kept calling to arrange dates, and within six months they moved in together. It had not entered their minds that marriage was a possibility until they moved to New England. They were going to become domestic partners, but marriage became a real option in Massachusetts. They had counseling sessions with their gay pastor, married in 2004 with about 15 racially mixed guests, and honeymooned in New York City. Reggie experiences more racism than Kevon. They tell a story of shopping for furniture. They split up to look for different items. Kevon was immediately solicited and helped. Reggie was followed around but ignored until the two came together. It is not unusual for Reggie to be followed, yet ignored. The more blatant racism in the South is subtle here in the East, he says. That’s what makes it more shocking when it does happen here. Though Reggie feels like he is safe here, he fears people in the Midwest, southern states, or economically deprived cities and states may feel the brunt of attacks and racism more often.
This attitude is not confined to the South. As a young afro-American in 1972 in Massachusetts, I was accosted in a bar for dancing with a white girl. I suddenly found myself surrounded by a circle of white people (who had obviously not seen Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner). The bouncer broke it up and escorted my friend and me out to safety. I have experienced many instances of racial disharmony in my life, though happily they have diminished as the years have passed. The worst was when I was engaged to marry a white woman. Her parents, who thought the world of me personally, threatened to throw her out of the house if our engagement persisted. I can’t imagine how she felt. I know how horrible I felt asking her to choose her parents or me. We were not destined to marry, but what about those who were?
In 2013 Louisiana Justice of the Peace Keith Bardwell routinely refused to marry interracial couples because he believed interracial children would be harmed growing up in that type of environment. He would refer couples to other justices. He did not believe himself to be a racist—just concerned for the children.
Paige and Sarah
Paige Parks met Sarah Clausius when they were in college together in 1999. Paige was born in St. Louis but raised in Connecticut. Sarah was born in New York and raised in Rhode Island. They became fast friends, discovering they had many things in common, including closeness to their families. Paige is black and had dated interracially before. Sarah is white and had not. Their tight-knit circle of friends had no issue with their dating. They became a couple in 2003. Race was not a problem for either family. Sarah’s mother calls Paige her daughter, and Paige’s parents think Sarah is awesome. They married in a small wedding of family and friends in 2009. They have two small children: a four-year-old daughter carried by Sarah and a three-year-old son carried by Paige. Not only are the children Caucasian and African-American, but they are also Asian. While Paige has not experienced any direct prejudice, Sarah has often had to explain to well-meaning people of narrower experience that she does not share their limited or stereotypical views. Both parents negotiate the myriad questions about cultural upbringing based on the values they were brought up with and how best to incorporate those values into their children’s lives in order to make them well-rounded.
Six adult children of gay parents have filed briefs with the U.S. Supreme Court to dissuade the justices from legalizing same-sex marriage, citing their childhood struggles with gender confusion and feelings of isolation and sadness without being able to talk about those things with anyone. They also cite pressures to conform to “gay values.” The inconsolable longing for the missing parent is another common theme. (Children of straight, single parents don’t have this longing?) Groups like the Family Equality Council and COLAGE filed a brief with the Supreme Court arguing that families led by same-sex parents deserve no less protection than other families, and the years of same-sex marriages have already shown its benefits to children.
What group can really stand up and claim they have a monopoly on the sanctity of marriage? Come on now, Mr. Pot calling Ms. Kettle black. These are the fringe elements coupled with the uninformed and slow to enlighten. Hypocrites aside, old traditions are hard to break, and values are often too difficult to change.
According to DivorceSource.com, a couple getting married today has about a 40 percent chance of being divorced. The good news is that number is significantly lower since the 1990s, which leads one to think that people are entering into marriage with more thought and care and finding ways to make it work. That still does not indicate that heterosexuals have cornered the market on either morality or marriage success as many would have people believe. And frankly, if we are all indeed created equal, then homosexuals certainly deserve the same opportunity to make the same mistakes as our straight counterparts. Don’t judge. No one denies that marriage is a struggle.
John and Dameian
John Beaudreau and Dameian Slocum started dating in 2000. They were immediately smitten with each other when they first met at the Mirabar through a mutual friend. Both had dated interracially before. Their love affair was a complete surprise but for reasons of personality, not skin color. John, who is white, is gregariously charming, and no one expected him to bring home the more subdued Dameian. John’s parents couldn’t have cared less that Dameian was black. While Dameian’s older relatives did caution him about the dangers of prejudice, they never minded interracial relationships. He has always had friends of different races and nationalities, so prejudice was never taught in his home. Dameian, however, has always been searched at the airport and has been followed in stores often. John never is. They were married in 2003. They do get looks when they are out but can’t really tell if it’s because they are gay or a mixed couple.
John and Dameian slid precariously into the precipice of separation (Mind your business. This is not the Enquirer). Suffice it to say they found themselves living lives that were not, shall we say, compatible, and they divorced in 2009. That solution did not work for them either. After a thoughtful reconciliation in 2012, they have repaired their relationship, and it has been resuscitated and rejuvenated.
Most people know couples who have made a fantastic success at marriage. We celebrate their anniversaries every year and marvel at how they have managed to do so without mood-altering prescriptions or accidentally pushing one into the path of a speeding bus. These people have managed to uphold the sanctity of marriage, and those who enter into marriage strive to emulate them. Some of these people are our loved ones. And some of them are gay.
Should the Supreme Court vote to let individual states determine the legality of gay marriage, the Clausius-Parks family, the Tucker-Sealys, the Slocum-Beaudreaus, the Barros-Csizmesias, and so many other couples of every race and sexual identity will have limitations when deciding where they will live within the United States, just as the Lovings did when they married and were arrested in 1958. Moving to a state that will not recognize their marriage will compromise their rights of safety and integrity in many ways. Rights such as hospital regulations, insurance, property ownership, authority over children, taxes, social security benefits, funeral arrangements, and other spousal rights will be called into question. It will be open season on discrimination, which brings us right back to the principles of separate but equal: for colored only and no catered pizza at your gay wedding.
More couples than ever are marrying outside their race and marrying the same sex. There will always be those who don’t want or are reluctant to change. But there is hope. They may learn to walk with the changing landscape in time, as so many have done. Some of them will die. If not now, the next generation will bring this forward. This June is the 48th anniversary of the Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court decision. Mildred Loving, just months before she died in 2008, issued a statement urging support for marriage between same-sex couples.