North Carolina’s Consitutional Marriage Amendment (the 1875 version)

North Carolina’s News & Observer helps to add some historical perspective to the North Carolina Marriage Amendment debate by delving into it’s constitutional past:

If Amendment One passes on Tuesday, it won’t be our first state constitutional provision regulating marriage. In 1875, we altered our charter to declare that “all marriages between a white person and a Negro or between a white person and a person of Negro descent to the third generation inclusive are, hereby, forever prohibited.”

The 1875 amendment, too, was adopted shortly (two years) after an invigorated anti-miscegenation statute had been enacted by the legislature. Even more clearly than is the case today, the proponents could not have worried that an amendment was actually needed. No one fretted that a 19th century North Carolina court would invalidate the earlier separationist statutory rule.

The interracial amendment was apparently designed to serve other aims. It was constitutionalism by epithet, by exclamation point. No government structure or power or authority was actually altered. Instead, North Carolinians used the constitution to double down – to declare, in as potent a format as exists, their unyielding hostility to marriage between blacks and whites.


The amendment we’re now considering secures no liberties, alters no decision-making structures, opens no doors to a broader swath of the citizenry. Instead, through its phrases, a powerful majority enshrines its supremacy over a small and disfavored minority. It expresses hostility in the most distinctive way available. It carves it into our constitution. It declares, in effect, that “in this foundational matter, thou shalt never be equal.”

I suspect that the same type of embarrassment that we feel upon reading about the banning of interacial marriage, will be similar to the embarrassment that we feel in the not to distant future about amendments that ban gay marriage. There’s always the hope that North Carolina will avoid that fate and vote their amendment down on May 8.

Read the full article

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