Typically people don't talk about interracial couples or interracial marriage as much as a societal thing.
That is pretty debatable. Dalmage charts out plenty of talk in her book Tripping on the Color Line.
In many camps, Black women who date White men are labeled gold-diggers. Whites who date Blacks are said to be doing it in hopes of experiencing "the jungle fever," or simply to take advantage of certain expected anatomical differences, but not for a "real relationship" etc. Plenty of conservatives go on about alleged social decay with particular jabs at Black culture and derogatory claims about single urban mothers, which in the US are often code for supposed intrinsic evils of Black women. Also: Interracial couples are also more likely to be funneled into living in mixed-race neighborhoods, neighborhoods more likely to be depleted of real estate value, strong schools, business investment, and social services. Simply by marrying across racial lines, most
people who do increase the chances that part of their time, politics, and assets will be spent fighting race issues (either for their own sake or for the sake of others they come to know).
When my sister dated minorities and eventually married a minority I don't think the interracial manner of their marriage even remotely entered into my thought process.
The notion that one doesn't talk or think about a couple's race at all seems awfully unlikely to me. Unless one lives in a political stream that insists civil rights have all been fought and won, and oh America is nothing but color blind now. Nothing to see here. The way I see it... Eroticize it or celebrate it or criticize it, what have you... But nary a thought? As the saying goes, I'd have to be living under a rock.
By the way, you've also set up a neat non-event here. Much like not claiming any critical opinion at all about race, you've kept apart from the marriage issue while at the same time claiming to deal with it. If your sister had started dating another woman and expressed interest in marrying her, then
what would you have done? Would you have wished she would wait because you think society isn't ready yet? Would you perhaps have told her, yes you can go to a state that allows it but don't expect to get all the same benefits and don't leave that state too often if you wish to keep what you do get -- that's just the natural course of generational change you'll have to wait for? I guess from the rest, that's what you would say, but you haven't really spoken for that situation.
At the time when it was a hot button social issue, yes interracial marriage was considered separate and different from traditional marriage. Typically as a society we use qualifiers to denote where something is different from the norm or non-traditional. We say "I ordered some Chinese food" because we want to be specific and typically "food" may not include "Chinese food". If you notice if you go order pizza typically you don't say "We ordered Italian food."
We can just as probably say "pizza" so we don't confuse it with say, "chicken wings." Many people also know that popular individual varieties, such as Chinese dumplings (jiaozi or what some label "pot stickers") are not seen as traditional American fare, but they don't say "Chinese pot stickers" every time they buy them. The law does not says that either chicken wings, nor pizza nor Trader Joe's
"pot stickers" will not be treated as food in the eyes of the state. Prop 8 was
saying gay marriage will not be treated as marriage! Nor has the fact that some ethnic restaurants are still
regarded as more foreign than others, and are still
often located in districts more prone to crime etc., prevented us from treating all of them as restaurants. But it sounds like you want to keep gay marriage away as long as enough people mark out a difference. Well to make this analogy make sense, you'd better start checking the labels on everything you eat very, very closely. No imported ingredients, no ethnic for you. Too many people still think they're different, too. Especially when the economy is down and protectionist sentiment takes off among a vocal minority here and there. Even if they are all arguing for different, illogical, ugly or inconsistent reasons, it's still not a hallowed consensus in favor of those foreign products. So you'll just have to stay away from all that, too.
Now-a-days in most parts of the country inter-racial marriage is considered an acceptable norm, and only in social and cultural groups where it is taboo is it referred to as such.
I wouldn't deny that there is less public
debate about interracial marriage, but I'd argue (and I already have, as have others) that wouldn't be the case if the state had not stepped in when there was plenty of conflict, and said you know what? We just aren't going to do this. Not that it stopped so much local politicking and prejudice from continuing to cloud the topic. Even today.
Perhaps over the next few decades the social societal views of our country will shift and the definition of marriage will expand to include same sex couples in the same manner interracial couples have included into the concept.
Or perhaps while we're all wringing our thumbs and waiting for that ever-elusive "consensus," a handful of gay people somewhere will snap (whether on this issue or something else) and do something explosive... If 9/11 plus the history of language of threat being applied to gayness are anything to go by, then gays would be treated with increased suspicion and hostility, more like Muslims in America today. Not that I'm a fan of such broadly violent catharsis, but really, speaking more generally...
Why wait for so many variables that might change and alter the atmosphere for the whole issue? The only good politics I see in that, is if one actually doesn't like the current trend or thinks too much has already changed... In that case, it makes sense to quietly hope something swings back the other way. Just get people to wait, it might all go away... In any case, the status quo prevails in your
generation so you seem to be content to live with that inequality, whether it benefits you or you're simply afraid to deal with a little confrontation to reach the alternative. Either the state supports justice now, or there may never be conditions for it later. Saying, let's wait and see what public opinion does is playing the lottery at best and blind to the history of movements at worst.
Though it is fair to point out that at the time of Loving vs Virginia inter-racial marriage was already legal in several states through legislative means, not through court means.
It's just as fair to point out the courts are part of the system, too. So we can each spin the wheel until it lands on the result we like this time...
The fact that we use the qualifier "same sex" really just points out that we compartmentalize same-sex marriage as a different entity or a variation of a societal norm. This in and of itself is not grounds to say whether or not it should be legalized, but as Noelle, Jude, and others have argued, it is indicative of the fact that there is a societal perception of marriage having a traditional definition into which same-sex marriage does not fit.
I think using "societal" is suggesting a sort of consensus that doesn't exist here. Your counterexample was interracial marriage, but interracial marriages do not follow the same trends by class or regionally either. Saying there is broader support for interracial marriage in principle, hardly speaks to who is involved and how they are affected.
We can contrast interracial marriage data with what is likely to be involved in gay and lesbian marriages. http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1616/american-marriage-interracial-interethnic
First off, few of the participants in those marriages are White (9% in 2008). Fully 1/3 of the interracial marriage partners identify as multi-racial to begin with. Put those together: It is not mainly identified Whites changing socioeconomic status. Contrast that with the fact that a foundation of often White
heterosexual privilege, in terms of wealth and assets, lies significantly with the tax benefits plus geographic mobility of nationally recognized marriage. White straight people, as a class, have more to lose from gay marriage and thus it stands to reason they might be biased against it. (And that's setting aside the quite real biases that they also may hold about how orientation should relate to outdated gender roles per se.) The stats also show that support for interracial marriage is higher among racial minorities than among Whites. So I would argue that in fact, the party with the most to lose materially and in terms of prestige is still resistant. We can expect that 20 or 40 years after legalization of gay marriage, there would still be some huffing and threatening too, but that isn't a good reason to delay.
Commonalities I see between interracial marriage and gay marriage are: More frequent activity in the West (many more same-sex marriages there) and more awareness among young people. But we didn't stop interracial marriage because it's more popular in some regions than others, nor because the younger generation supported it more and it was "socially untested" or some such. Instead, here you are saying see, that went ahead.