by Leslie Robinson
How could I feel anything but fondness for a marriage case where those arguing for the right to marry were named “Loving?”
I thought it best to get that out of the way early.
In June, the month when so many Americans celebrate wedding anniversaries, this country has been marking the 40th anniversary of Loving vs. Virginia, the landmark case that ended bans on interracial marriage and has symbolic and practical meaning for today’s tussle on behalf of gay marriage.
Though this isn’t precisely a wedding anniversary, it’s certainly worth celebrating. If you feel like sending Mildred Loving a token of thanks, well, it’s gonna cost you – the traditional 40th anniversary gift is rubies.
Mildred Loving recently sent the gay community a gift in the form of a statement marking the anniversary. She recounted how in 1958 she and her late husband Richard were arrested in the middle of the night in their own bedroom for the appalling crime of . . . marrying.
You see, Richard Loving was white, and Mildred Jeter was African-American and Native American. The state of Virginia forbade marriage between a white person and a non-white person, so the sheriffs were enforcing the law and throwing some late-night terror into the bargain.
After the Lovings were found guilty, Judge Leon Bazile declared, “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.”
Case closed. Brain too.
The judge sentenced these public enemies to a year in prison, suspending it if they left Virginia for 25 years. They moved to the District of Columbia and began the legal struggle that would lead to the U.S. Supreme Court. Mildred Loving stressed that she and Richard didn’t fight for a political cause, but “for our love.”
That works, too.
In 1967, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law was unconstitutional. Bye-bye Virginia’s “Racial Integrity Act of 1924,” and goodbye all race restrictions on marriage in this country. (Call it “The Long Goodbye” – in 2000 Alabama became the last state to junk its law against mixed-race nuptials).
The Supreme Court’s decision referred to marriage as a “basic civil right.” Such a concept!
Loving said that most of her generation accepted the idea that God wanted the races kept apart and government should act as the moat. She’s pleased, now that she’s a grandmother, to see younger people believe differently.
Each day she thinks about what it meant to her to be free “to marry the person precious to me,” even when plenty of people reacted as though she had married a garter snake.
“I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people’s civil rights.”
You tell ’em, Mildred.
She finished her statement by saying, “I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard’s and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.”
I’ve no doubt that foes of marriage equality can trot out mixed-race couples who oppose gays marrying. That’s okay. I’m just happy we have reserved, determined, accidentally trailblazing Mildred Loving on our side.