WASHINGTON—Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the poster child for gay marriage?
A coalition of civil rights groups that back gay marriage is using photos of prominent couples like the former Republican governor and his Mexican-born wife, Columba, in an advertising campaign marking the 40th anniversary of Loving v. Virginia, a U.S. Supreme Court decision that gave interracial couples the right to marry.
The groups say they hope to use the couples and the court case to bolster their contention that marriage is a civil right that should know no bounds—even for those of the same sex.
"We're honoring and celebrating something that just over 40 years ago some Americans said was immoral and wrong and could not happen," said Jimmy Creech, the executive director of Faith in America, a gay rights advocacy group that is bankrolling the ad campaign. "We're celebrating the wisdom that prejudice and bigotry was removed from the law books and Americans were given the right to marry the person they loved, regardless of race."
The "Freedom to Marry" advertising campaign—to be launched Monday—consists of six ads that will run in two Capitol Hill publications, Roll Call and Politico. They feature photos of interracial couples like golfer Tiger Woods and his wife, Elin, and former U.S. Defense Secretary Bill Cohen and his wife, Janet Langhart, who have authored a book about their marriage, "Love in Black and White." Couples married to someone of a different ethnicity, like the Bushes, are also featured.
The ads note that 16 states still banned interracial marriages until the Supreme Court struck down a Virginia law in 1967, finding "the freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men."
"Jeb and Columba Bush couldn't marry today if discrimination were still the law of the land," the ad that features the former Florida first couple reads.
Bush didn't respond to a request for comment. But John Stemberger, an Orlando attorney who is spearheading a petition drive to put a gay marriage ban up for a vote in Florida in 2008, called the ads "a little bit silly." And he suggested that no laws would have prevented two people of differing ethnicities to wed.
"The ruling did not redefine the definition of marriage, it affirmed it and said that any male and any female has a right to marry, irrespective of race," Stemberger said. "Segregation was clearly a social ill."
In addition to the Raleigh, N.C.-based Faith in America, the campaign's sponsors include the Asian American Justice Center, Freedom to Marry, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, the Hispanic National Bar Association, Lambda Legal, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the National Black Justice Coalition and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.
Herndon Davis, a spokesman for the National Black Justice Coalition, a nationwide lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization, said many Americans have no idea that biracial marriages were illegal in many states just 40 years ago.
"We want to draw some parallels and comparisons to show that oppression is oppression and intolerance is intolerance," Davis said. "Forty years ago there were a lot of situations that weren't tolerated and as we have thankfully evolved around race and ethnicity, there's still intolerance."