PA Marriage Amendment: the Exclusive Country Club of 2011

— by Adrian Shanker

It is difficult to comprehend the motivation of a person who would make a priority out of a Constitutional Amendment to define marriage as an exclusive heterosexual privilege. If Pennsylvania State Representative Daryl Metcalfe (R-Cranberry Township) has his way, Pennsylvania will become the latest state to remind their LGBT citizens that they are still second-class to their straight neighbors. Metcalfe has recently announced his intent to introduce an amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman. For purposes of clarity, same-sex marriage is not currently legal in Pennsylvania, nor is there a chance that it will become legal in the near future, but for Daryl Metcalfe, he needs the satisfaction of telling people like me that not only can we not have equality, but that the denial of equality must be written in Constitutional stone. Metcalfe needs to remind me that I am still a second-class citizen in Pennsylvania.

Even a cursory review of Jewish American history will demonstrate the exclusivity that kept Jews second-class citizens. The routine exclusion of Jews to many private country clubs beginning in the 1920’s/30’s is perhaps the most widely understood of the many American antisemetic practices in which people with power held Jews back from full equality and participation in society. Diane Elizabeth Kendall, from her book, Members Only: Elite Clubs and the Process of Exclusion, states,

“In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, the Baltimore Country Club had signs posted that said ‘No Dogs, No Coloreds, No Jews.'”

(page 59) The pervasive exclusion of our group of people served only to benefit those with the power to exclude, in a word, to give them status as more elite than Jews.

More after the jump.
There are many similarities between the institution of marriage and the exclusivity of the country club. They both serve to enhance the economic interests of the participants, entrance into either comes with tangible benefits, and most importantly, both the institution of marriage and the country club have a history of exclusivity. A review of changes in marriage policy will remind us that the legal rights within the institution have been ever-changing, especially insofar as gender roles and property ownership are concerned. Anti-miscegenation laws were not declared unconstitutional until the 1967 Loving v Virginia case. The trial judge, Leon Bazile, defending the so-called Racial Integrity Act states,

“Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

But fortunately, the Supreme Court unanimously disagreed with the Commonwealth of Virginia and removed unnecessary and offensive racial restrictions from the institution of marriage. And let us not be so naïve to suggest that there is a difference between the Daryl Metcalfes of today from the Leon Baziles of the past. There is no difference. The interest in the so-called protection of the institution of marriage will always find new classes to exclude from the proverbial country club of the day.

As Jews, we know all too well the exclusionary tactics of the country club. We know what it means to be told we are second-class citizens. And we know what it felt like when our friends entered the country clubs we couldn’t attend, or when they benefited from the exclusivity that was their cultural privilege. We cannot simply learn about our cultural history in a textbook without taking action to ensure the end of the exclusive country-club mentality of today’s marriage institution. We need to ensure that the Jewish voice is collectively loud and clear regarding our opposition to a hateful, unnecessary constitutional amendment further denying rights to same-sex couples. But that still is not enough. We need to actively work for the legalization of civil same-sex marriage, and even better, perhaps some heterosexual Jews will offer to deny their own privilege of entering the country club of legal marriage while the rest of us wait at the sidelines.

Adrian Shanker, a Lehigh Valley-based LGBT community leader, serves on the Board of Directors of Equality Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Diversity Network, and the JRF Congregation Am Haskalah.