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Each year when February rolls around two things always come to mind, Black History and love. With the recent ruling by California’s 9th Circuit Court finding Prop. 8 unconstitutional and the state of Washington becoming the seventh state to enact legislation for same-sex marriage, this year marriage equality has joined the February mix.
Love by far is the greatest portion of the mix. It drives, sustains, motivates, inspires and is the common thread that makes each of us more human.
Love of family and community is a thread woven throughout the history of the African American community. Although the shortest month of the year has been set aside to celebrate Black history, it’s oddly appropriate that it’s also the month society celebrates the holiday of love – Valentine’s Day. No other community in the history of this country has had to fight so hard to have their love of family and community recognized and afforded the full rights and protections enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.
Amidst all the atrocities of slavery: the hatred, violence and bigotry experienced post slavery and through the civil rights movement and beyond, you can find a story of love – a basic civil right denied, fought for and still under attack.
Marriage equality has been a part of the African American struggle with historic parallels, emotionally and constitutionally, to the challenges LGBT people experience in obtaining recognition of our love, our families and our relationships.
If you have any doubts about the importance of marriage/family in African American history you have only to visit the slavery auction blocks in Charleston, South Carolina. There you will learn about how destruction of familial connections was used as one of the first tools of oppression.
Blindfolded slaves, both men and women, were forced to breed unaware and unable to form any family bonds. The thought being that not allowing families would weaken not only the spirit, but also the resolve of slaves. But despite these attempts to destroy families, men and women bound in slavery developed traditions and ceremonies (without the benefit of clergy) to celebrate their love, establish families even though the next day they could be torn apart.
In 1866 former slaves Benjamin Mason and Sarah White received an official marriage certificate from the Bureau of refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands (Freedmen Bureau). The couple had lived as man and wife for over twenty years before receiving this legal recognition.
In 1963 Mildred and Richard Loving, an interracial couple, took on the state of Virginia in another step for marriage equality. The Lovings had married in Washington, D.C. to evade Virginia’s “Racial Integrity Act” banning interracial marriages. Upon returning to Virginia the couple was arrested in their home for miscegenation. They were found sleeping in their bed by a group of police officers who invaded their home in the hopes of finding them in the act of sex (another crime). As part of a guilty plea, the Lovings were forced to leave the state to avoid a 25-year prison sentence.
In a landmark civil rights case the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously declared Virginia’s “Racial Integrity Act of 1924” unconstitutional. In his decision, Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote that “Marriage is one of the basic civil rights of man” affirming what African Americans had known in their hearts and fought for since slavery.
In a struggle much like that of the African American community, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community has been fighting for the recognition, protections and rights of marriage equality.
LGBT couples have developed traditions and ceremonies (without the benefit of clergy) to celebrate their love. And although no one is literally breaking into our bedrooms any longer with the passage of Lawrence v. Texas in 2003, what goes on in our bedroom (who and how we love) continually comes under attack in the right wing’s campaign against our right to marriage.
It seems only right that in this month where we celebrate Black History and love that the 9th Circuit Court would uphold the decision finding California’s Prop 8 unconstitutional. Never before has a federal appellate court affirmed that denying a ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional; it cannot base the marriage ban on any rationale that denigrates gay parents; that domestic partnerships are unequal to marriage; and, as a matter of law, marriage rights do not hinge on natural procreative ability.
It seems only right that in this month where we celebrate Black History and love that the governor of a seventh state, Washington, signs a marriage equality bill. Chief Warren’s words are as true today as they were in 1967 “Marriage is one of the basic civil rights of man.”
So let’s celebrate February with more than hearts and flowers. Let’s celebrate this perfect mix of history and equality with hopes that LOVE will conquer all.