Anti-Miscegenation Statutes: Roman Catholic and Protestant Theologies of Marriage and Race

Fay Botham

Is the right to marry the person of one's choosing a human freedom? Does the state have a right to limit that choice? Historically, bans on interracial marriage in the United States grew from a sexual ethics rooted in Christian beliefs about marriage, race, and sexuality, and nurtured in a slaveholding society. The context of slavery meant that these laws contained fundamentally racist ideas about black male and female sexuality, and fundamentally sexist ideas about girls and women of all races. As we continue to struggle against racism, sexism, and (religious) heterosexism, knowledge of this history can guide us in thinking about the role of the state in private decisions. It raises useful questions about the proper relationship between religion and state, and specifically about the appropriateness of biblical influences on American law and public policy, particularly in a nation that purports to affirm no particular faith or religious tradition. A sexual ethics rooted in the moral principles of mutuality, equality, and consent, rather than in biblical precepts, might be a productive way to discuss government policies regarding marriage today.