Tidbits for Political Junkies with Short Attention Spans & Hearty Appetites


Monday, June 14, 2004


The New Jim Crow

I commented once before, very briefly, on Virginia's hideous new "Marriage Affirmation Law," which takes effect July 1. Via Sully, we learn of this excellent piece by Jonathan Rauch who illustrates clearly what this law really is:
If I seem to be splitting hairs, that is because Virginia -- where my partner and I make our home -- is not splitting hairs. It has instead taken a baseball bat to civic equality, thanks to the so-called Marriage Affirmation Act.

The act -- really an amendment to an earlier law -- was passed in April, over Gov. Mark R. Warner's objections, and it takes effect July 1. It says, "A civil union, partnership contract or other arrangement between persons of the same sex purporting to bestow the privileges and obligations of marriage is prohibited." It goes on to add that any such union, contract or arrangement entered into in any other state, "and any contractual rights created thereby," are "void and unenforceable in Virginia."


To abridge the right of contract for same-sex partners, then, is to deny not just gay coupledom, in the law's eyes, but gay personhood. It disenfranchises gay people as individuals. It makes us nonpersons, subcitizens. By stripping us of our bonds to each other, it strips us even of ownership of ourselves.

Americans have a name for the use of law in this fashion, and that name is Jim Crow. It is not a name much called for anymore, but the Marriage Affirmation Act -- could that name be any more inapt? -- is the genuine article.


Obstructing gay couples' private contracts is no less vindictive and abusive, and it deserves the same nationwide opprobrium -- especially among conservatives who distinguish between denying marriage to gay couples and denying civil rights to gay individuals. If Virginia's attack on basic legal equality does not offend and embarrass conservatives, what anti-gay measure possibly could? And if this law is not snuffed out, what might be next?

The whole thing is downright medieval: it's mean-spirited bigotry, and it's the law.


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