Tradition is no excuse for discrimination

Posted by under Human Rights Education on 24 March 2005

Traditions cannot justify discriminative state policies and practices. Can one claim that man is the head of the family so women on the same job as man earn less, have less opportunity for promotion? Can one's parent object to interracial marriage?

14 March 2005, a San Francisco Superior Court Judge Richard Kramer dismissed claims that tradition alone was sufficient to justify the state's policy and said such arguments were akin to those advanced against miscegenation decades ago. [Miscegenation - tradition used to justify banning interracial marriage]

In 1948, California's Supreme Court stated that the state's ban on interracial marriage violated the equal-protection clause of the United States constitution. Advocates of the racial ban had asserted that, because historically blacks had not been permitted to marry whites, the statute was justified. The court had rejected this argument: "Certainly the fact alone that the discrimination has been sanctioned by the state for many years does not supply such [Constitutional] justification." In other words, tradition is no excuse.

However, it was not until 7 November 2000 that the electorate of Alabama passed an amendment to the Constitution of 1901 that abolished the prohibition of interracial marriage.

South Carolina removes ban on interracial marriage

(November 3, 1998) -- It took 103 years, but South Carolina has finally voted to remove a ban on interracial marriage from its state constitution.

Although it was not actively enforced, a clause added to the state's constitution in 1895 prohibited "marriage of a white person with a Negro or mulatto or a person who shall have one-eighth or more of Negro blood."

Until last spring, state legislators refused to allow voters to decide whether to remove the ban. South Carolina's Amendment 4 finally deletes the line from the constitution.

In 1967, the Supreme Court ruled that a similar law in Virginia could not be enforced. Clemson University political scientist Bruce Ransom told The Associated Press before Election Day that the vote would be more symbolic than legal.

"South Carolina is in no position, regardless of what happens November 3, to ban interracial marriages," Ransom said. "It's a symbolic act. It would say something about the state in a very powerful way."

A Mason-Dixon poll conducted in August showed two-thirds of voters favored removing the ban, 22 percent opposed it and 11 percent remained undecided. The sample of 806 registered voters contained about twice as many whites as blacks.

Sources and Relevant Links:

Julie Novkov Historical Background on Miscegenation

excerpted from: Julie Novkov, Racial Constructions: the Legal Regulation of Miscegenation in Alabama, 1890-1934 , 20 Law and History Review 225-277, 229-236 (Summer, 2002)

In the days of slavery, anti- miscegenation laws could serve simply to channel interracial relationships rather than to eliminate them completely. After slavery, in the matter of interracial sex, the southern states took over the task of direct patriarchal control previously left in the hands of individuals. Alabama state maintain laws against miscegenation and punish those who violated them. In 2000, Alabama abolished the prohibition on interracial marriage.

Bárbara C. Cruz and Michael J. Berson The American Melting Pot? Miscegenation Laws in the United States

The U.S. Supreme Court found the laws against interracial marriage unconstitutional. Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote the Court's decision: "Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry or not marry a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed upon by the State." With that decision, all the remaining anti-miscegenation laws in the country were null and void.

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