You might have heard this story about a justice of the peace in Louisiana who’s been refusing to give marriage licences to interracial couples on the grounds that their children won’t be accepted by either white or black people. Now, he’s obviously a complete idiot, and he should almost certainly lose his job, but it’s not absolutely clear that he is a racist, as most people are saying.
Well, all right, he also adds that he doesn’t “believe in mixing the races that way”, which implies to me that yes, he probably is a racist.
But he says that his main reason is that the children will suffer, and this has more to do with the racial prejudice he assumes in others. And, for all I know, he may be right in this assumption: maybe there is a great deal of prejudice in Louisiana towards mixed-race children, and maybe they do get bullied and rejected disproportionately. In other words, although this particular guy seems to be a racist, you could imagine someone who wasn’t racist making the same argument. The basic argument, after all, seems simple and compelling:
Don’t do things that will lead your children to suffer disproportionately.
It falls apart rather in this case, of course, when you consider that people are perfectly capable of making children without being married. And, one might add, one of the best ways to encourage acceptance of mixed-race kids is to make more of them. But then, it seems, you’re kind of asking the first few of them to help clear the way for the next ones. And they didn’t ask to be martyrs.
So the issue is this: if it is the case that the children of interracial partnerships will suffer more than other children (which I suspect may be the case in most parts of the world), but that this is not an argument against interracial couples having children (and I don’t think it is), then presumably we must accept that there’s a certain level of extra suffering that’s acceptable. And that seems reasonable enough. But what is this level?
You get the same argument made against gay adoption, and I think—interestingly—that more people find this compelling. It is apparently the case that children brought up by lesbians don’t get bullied much more than those brought up by straight couples, but that children brought up by gay men do (unfortunately, I can’t remember the source of the stats, or what the dates were). If this is the case, it suggests to a lot of people that gay men shouldn’t adopt, that their adoption is actually selfish: it fulfils their desire to have children, while the children are likely to suffer more than most. Is this different from the interracial case? If so, why?
Interestingly, while many religious people would be against gay marriage, and would make that argument, this is not a question that really divides people neatly along religious lines. Consider parents who know it’s likely, because of their own genes, that their children will be born with some disability. Or parents who have the option to abort a foetus, which they discover will be disabled in some way, but choose not to. Are they wrong to make this decision? Does it depend on the disability? In which case, how bad does it have to be?
I’m not arguing that that idiot in Louisiana was right. It seems pretty clear that he wasn’t. Nor, of course, am I arguing against interracial marriage or against making mixed-race babies. But I think that this guy’s argument for not wanting these people to marry is an expression of a rather more serious moral question, whose answer is not straightforward, and is at least a little troubling for religious and non-religious alike.