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Truth, Metaphor, and Race in the Marriage Debate

By Robert Oscar Lopez, Witherspoon Institute

Whatever same-sex marriage is, that’s not what gays are after. They are after a symbolic vehicle that can make them equal to people who can do something they cannot—procreate.

The briefs filed in Hollingsworth v. Perry, the Supreme Court case on California's Proposition 8, reveal something odd. Much of the debate over same-sex marriage has been a fight over metaphors.

Can a same-sex couple mean the same thing as a man and a woman, even if the body parts are not identical? Can domestic partnerships mean “separate but equal” and embody a new Plessy v. Ferguson? Is Proposition 8 analogous to “separate but equal”? Is gay the new black? Is California of 2008 a metonym for Virginia in the Loving case? Are gay couples the same thing as infertile straight couples? Is homophobia like Jim Crow?

Humbug. Since California has domestic partnerships with all the same legal benefits as marriage for same-sex couples, the material difference to be gained by overturning Proposition 8 is nowhere near as lucrative as the symbolism of doing so.

Symbols are definitely meaningful, which is why I do not discount the LGBT lobby's desire for the word “marriage.” Though they could settle for a “civil union” or “domestic partnership,” prestige and validation attend the word “marriage.” Even if unquantifiable, the fact that marriage is culturally understood as something prestigious and validating makes it worth fighting for. I get it.

Yet a thorny contradiction remains unresolved. I must explain it before doing some necessary critiques of the black-as-gay metaphor, which is the basis for invoking the Fourteenth Amendment in defense of same-sex marriage.

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