During yesterday’s oral arguments over the constitutionality of California’s ban on gay marriage, Justice Antonin Scalia claimed that there is “considerable disagreement among sociologists” as to whether being raised by a same-sex couple is “harmful to the child.” The lawyers arguing the case repeatedly brought up the landmark 1967 decision Loving v. Virginia, which struck down interracial marriage bans. Did supporters of the ban argue that interracial marriage was harmful to children in that case, too?
Absolutely. The state of Virginia presented two arguments in support of its interracial marriage ban in 1967. The first was that the authors of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution explicitly stated that they did not intend to strike down anti-miscegenation laws, which were common in the 19th century. The second argument was that interracial marriages were uniquely prone to divorce and placed undue psychological stress on children.
The parallels between the two cases are striking. The defenders of California’s Prop 8 rely heavily on the work of University of Texas sociologist Mark Regnerus, who argued in a 2012 study that the children of people who engage in same-sex relationships have worse psychological, social, and economic outcomes. (The study generated enormous controversy, and its conclusions have been largely rejected by other social scientists.) In 1967, the state of Virginia’s expert of choice was Albert Gordon, whose book Intermarriage: Interfaith, Interracial, Interethnic attacked the adequacy of interracial parenting. According to Virginia’s solicitor general Robert McIlwaine, Gordon concluded that interracial marriages “hold no promise for a bright and happy future for mankind” and “bequeath to the progeny of those marriages more psychological problems than the parents have a right to bequeath to them.” Interracial marriage is so undesirable, McIlwaine continued, that its negative effects can’t even be managed. He argued that it “causes a child to have almost insuperable difficulties in identification and that the problems which a child of an interracial marriage faces are those which no child can come through without damage to himself.”