Former Republican National Committee (RNC) chairman Michael Steele on Tuesday said he didn't "appreciate" the comparison between laws banning interracial marriage to laws that prevent same sex couples from marrying.
While the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals was the in process of finding California's same sex marriage ban unconstitutional, Steele was engaged in an intense debate about the question with former Lt. Dan Choi, an LGBT activist.
"People have taken the view, more of a libertarian view, that the local communities need to make these decisions, these states should decide," Steele asserted. "And that's where the battle should be drawn out as opposed to at the federal level, where you have a federal mandate. ... So that everybody has a chance to express themselves and the community decides ultimately where they want to be, and I think that's fundamentally what this whole thing is about. Once you bring it to the federal level, then you start stomping on my toes because I feel differently about it -- and I feel that I can't express it because it's subsumed into a bigger argument made by others who don't live in my community."
Choi posed the following question to Steele: "Since I fought for the entire of America, every state, don't you believe that my love is just as equal as your love? When I come back from Iraq, I shouldn't go to one state where my love is inferior to yours and another state where I wouldn't be able to say goodbye to my husband or to my lover?"
"I'm not going to get into how you define your love," Steele replied. "Then you take it to another level when you ask the broader community where you live to look at that relationship in a way that puts it on par with other things."
"Michael, I'm curious to whether you think it would be OK in modern America for there to be some states where black men could not marry white women?" author John Heilemann asked the former RNC chairman.
"First off, let's just be very clear," Steele said sternly. "There are a significant number of African Americans, myself included, who do no appreciate that particular equation. OK? Because when you walk into a room, I don't know if you are gay or not, but when I walk into a room, you know I'm black. And whatever racial feelings you have about African Americans, about black people, that is something that is visceral, it comes out. I don't know [you are gay] until later on, maybe you tell me or some other way. So, don't sit there and make that comparison. Don't make that analogy."
"The analogy is perfect!" Heilemann shot back. "They're human."
"Respect the fact that I don't think it's perfect," Steele insited. "I don't think it's perfect."
"Legally speaking, these are immutable characteristics," Heilemann explained. "You can't help whether you're white or your black; you can't help whether you're gay or your straight."
"Absolutely," Steele agreed.
"The notion that because you can't change these things -- they're not behaviors, they're not clubs you belong to, you can't change who you love, you can't change what color you are," Heilemann continued. "Therefore, there should be equality around on a national basis. Whites should be able to marry blacks everywhere in the country because to have it to be otherwise would be discriminatory. Similarly, the same story with same sex marriage."
Steele rolled his eyes: "In your cultural view, that may be acceptable. In mine, it is not. And race is a very different category of discrimination."
In 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court found that the anti-miscegenation laws -- which banned interracial marriages -- were unconstitutional.
"Marriage is one of the 'basic civil rights of man,' fundamental to our very existence and survival," Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote for the majority. "To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State's citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discrimination. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State."
Watch this video from MSNBC's Now with Alex Wagner, broadcast Feb. 7, 2012.
[Ed. note: this article was edited after publication.]