12 June 2007

40 Years of Loving

Today is an important day in the annals of the struggle to obtain equality in matters of love: forty years ago, to this day, the Supreme Court of the United States of America ruled that two consenting adults, who are in love with each other, have a fundamental right to marry each other, regardless of their respective race.

I've previously blogged about the struggle same-sex couples face in their struggle to achieve "marriage equality." I've written letters to my congressional representatives in support of extending this fundamental right of marriage to same-sex couples. I've even blogged about the various levels of judicial review that guide courts' decisions in determining the constitutionality (or unconstitutionality) of particular laws passed by various legislatures in our great nation. Finally, we are able to look back a mere ten years to see that little, if any, has changed in the fight to achieve marriage equality.

Today, however, a voice from the past speaks out: the lead plaintiff in Loving v. Virginia has issued a statement in support of the right of same-sex couples to enter into civil marriage contracts. I say contract because that's exactly what marriage is, as far as the government is concerned.

There are many sites that will explain the separation between church and state but what is of paramount concern is that marriage has, and should always be, a contract between two persons. In most instances, this contract is a verbal agreement administered by a government official, witnessed by at least two persons not a party to the marriage contract. But enough about history -- for now.

In her statement, Mildred Loving puts it as no other could:

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.
A number of other sites on the Internet have picked up on the anniversary of the landmark Loving case; however, to the best of my knowledge, no major news organization has picked up on Mrs. Loving's statement in supprt of marriage equality for same-sex couples (and all couples, regardless of whom they might be). I'm fairly certain that, given the loving nature of the Lovings' relations, if Mr. Lovings were still around (he was killed by a drunk driver back in 1975), he would share in her sentiments.

[Updated 2 November 2008] I've just re-read Ms. Loving's statement and, especially considering that she recently passed away, I feel that it is important enough, and moving enough, that her entire statement should be posted and shared with as many as possible. So here goes, the entire statement by Mildred Loving on the 40th anniversary of the United States Supreme Court decision in Loving v. Virginia:
Loving for All

By Mildred Loving*

Prepared for Delivery on June 12, 2007,
The 40th Anniversary of the Loving vs. Virginia Announcement

When my late husband, Richard, and I got married in Washington, DC in 1958, it wasn’t to make a political statement or start a fight. We were in love, and we wanted to be married.

We didn’t get married in Washington because we wanted to marry there. We did it there because the government wouldn’t allow us to marry back home in Virginia where we grew up, where we met, where we fell in love, and where we wanted to be together and build our family. You see, I am a woman of color and Richard was white, and at that time people believed it was okay to keep us from marrying because of their ideas of who should marry whom.

When Richard and I came back to our home in Virginia, happily married, we had no intention of battling over the law. We made a commitment to each other in our love and lives, and now had the legal commitment, called marriage, to match. Isn’t that what marriage is?

Not long after our wedding, we were awakened in the middle of the night in our own bedroom by deputy sheriffs and actually arrested for the “crime” of marrying the wrong kind of person. Our marriage certificate was hanging on the wall above the bed. The state prosecuted Richard and me, and after we were found guilty, the judge 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.” He sentenced us to a year in prison, but offered to suspend the sentence if we left our home in Virginia for 25 years exile.

We left, and got a lawyer. Richard and I had to fight, but still were not fighting for a cause. We were fighting for our love.

Though it turned out we had to fight, happily Richard and I didn’t have to fight alone. Thanks to groups like the ACLU and the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund, and so many good people around the country willing to speak up, we took our case for the freedom to marry all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. And on June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that, “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,” a “basic civil right.”

My generation was bitterly divided over something that should have been so clear and right. The majority believed that what the judge said, that it was God’s plan to keep people apart, and that government should discriminate against people in love. But I have lived long enough now to see big changes. The older generation’s fears and prejudices have given way, and today’s young people realize that if someone loves someone they have a right to marry.

Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don’t think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the “wrong kind of person” for me to marry. 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.

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.