My fiancé is white. I’m not. We plan to jump the broom this summer, to honor my heritage and the hardships of couples like us. The tradition was born under anti-miscegenation laws that forbade blacks from marrying. And signing an official state marriage license feels inappropriate, considering the racist history behind it.
Anti-miscegenation laws had been a part of US history since colonial America. In the late 1700s, states began increasing their control over marriage by requiring a license. By the 1920s, 30 states had enacted laws that further prevented interracial marriage, including my home state, Virginia, with the Racial Integrity Act of 1924. It wasn’t until 1968 that banning interracial marriage was declared unconstitutional in the Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia.
Had my partner and I been engaged only 50 years ago, our application for a marriage license would have been rejected. Our only choice would’ve been to jump the broom. Theoretically, our marriage license still could be rejected, because it’s an application process, and all it takes is one bigoted judge to turn it down. And it isn’t just blacks or interracial couples who have been targeted by these invasive institutions.
Opening briefs for same-sex marriage arguments have already been filed with the Supreme Court. For gay rights supporters, the hope is that bans on same-sex marriage will be declared unconstitutional. If this hope is realized, then every state will be forced to recognize heterosexual and homosexual couples equally. However, I’m not convinced this is a step in the right direction.
As it stands, a marriage license is the most effective way for a couple to legally protect themselves. A license comes with over a thousand legal rights, including those relevant to medical emergencies, child custody, and inheritance. It’s important that those rights be respected by every state, but they should also be freely given to consenting adults without constraint. Marriage falls within our right of association, and the state should not be able hold it hostage while ordering you to submit to a blood test or pay a fee. No government agency should be able to reject you unless your marriage falls outside of two simple parameters: consensual and adult. The only “permission” to marry I should need is my partner’s. And now we’re left with an extremely difficult decision.
Do we reject the notion of state-regulated marriage and live as an unrecognized couple, or sign the license and perpetuate conventions we find wholly abhorrent? If we don’t sign the marriage license, we could end up paying lawyers hundreds of dollars to draw up contracts in an attempt to get some of the same rights and recognition as a legally married couple (“some” being the key word here). I don’t like to think about how it will feel to jump the broom in honor of my predecessors and then sign a piece of paper with a legacy of keeping couples like us apart.