As I awaited news of the U.S. Supreme Court's decisions in the same-sex marriage cases last month, I began to reflect on all of the daily privileges that I receive as a result of being heterosexual -- freedoms and privileges that my husband and I might not have enjoyed even fifty years ago. For our marriage is interracial.
Given my own relationship, I often contest anti-gay marriage arguments by noting the striking similarities between arguments that were once also widely made against interracial marriage. "They're unnatural." "It's about tradition." And my personal favorite, "what about the children?" In response, opponents of same-sex marriage, particularly other blacks, have often told me that the struggles of gays and lesbians are nothing at all like those African Americans (and other minorities) have faced, specifically because gays and lesbians can "pass" as straight and blacks cannot "pass" as white -- as if that somehow renders the denial of marital rights in one case excusable and another inexcusable. In both cases, denying the right to marriage still works to mark those precluded from the institution as "other," as the supposed inferior.
But what does it mean to "pass"? And what effect does passing have, in the longer term, on a relationship and on a person's psyche?
Until a recent trip with my husband to South Africa, my understanding of the harms caused by passing came primarily through my research on interracial family law, and in particular through the tragic love story of Alice Beatrice Rhinelander and Leonard Kip Rhinelander, to which I devoted the first half of my recent book.