I came across something funny this week while researching the national and state implications of the Respect For Marriage Act, which recently passed the Senate and is expected to clear the House and then be signed into law by President Joe Biden any day now.

Actually, maybe “funny” isn’t the right word for it still being necessary, in the year 2022, to codify the right of same-sex and interracial couples to be recognized as legally married in every state of the union. “Sad” is more like it.

Anyway, I researched when marriages between Black and white people, like the one I was in before I was widowed, were made legal in Maryland. Officially, that was in 1967, when the Supreme Court decided Loving v. Virginia, allowing such unions in all 50 states, including this one. But just last month, outgoing Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh formally overruled previous restrictions against Black and white people marrying each other.

Frosh’s statement was just a clarification of old laws no one paid attention to anymore because they’re ridiculous, reminding me of those weird lists of obviously absurd and arcane ordinances against chaining one’s alligator to a fire hydrant in Alabama, or bringing your pack mule above the first floor of any building in Cripple Creek, Colorado.

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Except my having fallen in love with a white Jewish guy and marrying him is not absurd or arcane, any more than the marriages of friends in Florida or New York who have married someone of their same gender. No one should have to tell you not to chain up your gator, and no one should have to tell you that you get to marry any legal adult you want to.

But Frosh, for some reason, felt he might as well mention it before he left office, in case anyone was confused. Because a lot of people don’t think my marriage, which only ended because my husband Scott died, or my friends’ marriages, which are still thriving, should be any more legal than mules riding in an elevator.

And that’s not funny.

There was a lot of applause when the U.S. Senate passed that bill last week in a bipartisan effort. But that joy obscures some bleaker facts. This seems only necessary, after years of not having to formally insist on those rights, because the conservative-leaning Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Justice Clarence Thomas suggested reconsidering decisions like Obergefell v. Hodges, that requires states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, or Griswold v. Connecticut, allowing married couples access to contraception. I think last week’s act is happening only because there’s reason to believe those things will be in jeopardy sometime in the future.

Also, last week’s action, if signed into law, would not force each state to allow same-sex or interracial marriages to be performed there, but would just make sure that the people in those states are recognized as legally wed when they move or visit there. And while 12 Republicans crossed the aisle to vote “yes,” 36 of them voted “no.” That’s chilling.

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That’s 36 people who don’t outright support my right to marry whoever I want, and to be considered married wherever we live. That’s 36 people who believe I should have fewer rights than they do — and at least one of them, Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, is actually in an interracial marriage to an Asian American, former Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao.

Also striking: Justice Thomas, whose comments on Roe and its relation to decisions like Obergefell and Loving that are based in the assumed right to privacy (even though he didn’t mention Loving by name), is a Black man married to a white woman. I cannot fathom why these men would put their own marriages in possible jeopardy, other than that they’re rich and can choose to live in any state they want and not worry about those who can’t.

But McConnell’s marriage is not my business. And mine is none of his. Neither is yours. Apparently, we still have to make this clear.

I suspect McConnell’s vote was less about interracial marriage and more about not codifying same-sex marriage. He couldn’t vote for one without the other, I guess, so he voted “no” on both? Jimmy Kimmel joked that maybe McConnell seemingly voted against his own marriage because it was unhappy. But that’s not funny, either. The idea of someone spitefully trying to reverse the legality of the estimated 20% of American marriages between people of different races, or the more than half a million between those of the same gender, because they were miserable ... is not a joke.

My life is not a talking point, or just a thing to disagree with your uncle over at Thanksgiving. If you don’t want to be in a marriage like that, don’t be. Do you. No one is making you.

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Meanwhile, mind your business.

I remember a story told by a woman at Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors tour in 2007, a celebration of LGBTQ families, about how she was not allowed to be by her wife’s bedside when she fell ill before a cruise in Florida, because she was not recognized as a legal relative in that state at the time. And when I was widowed in 2015, I thought, what if Loving v Virginia was not the law of the land? Would our wedding announcement have run in The New York Times? What if he had died while we were visiting some state where our marriage had not been legal? Would I have been unable to go to the ER, to talk to his doctors, to make arrangements for his body?

Can you imagine having to deal with that in an intense moment of grief? Or being unable to travel to places where this might happen, or to move there, even if the people seem very lovely until they’re legally barring you from your spouse’s bedside? You might not be able to imagine that if you’ve never had to consider whether your marriage was legal or going to remain so.

When I got married in 2010, Loving had been the law of the land in both Maryland, where we met, and Florida, where we tied the knot, for 43 years — which is not that long, honestly. And Obergefell has only been the law for seven. Not long enough to not have to worry about it now. Not long enough to have to consider 36 people who are on the record saying that this right should not be protected everywhere in this country.

This is not benign. This is not a curiosity. This is not funny. But thank goodness for those people who voted “yes.”

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Because as it turns out, we do have to worry about it.


Leslie Gray Streeter is a columnist excited about telling Baltimore stories — about us and the things that we care about, that touch us, that tickle us and that make us tick, from parenting to pop... 

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