Last Thursday President Obama announced that he “personally” felt that same-sex couples should be able to marry. The statement electrified the media and much of the country. The presumptive GOP Presidential candidate Mitt Romney immediately jumped on the !NO! wagon, the one that runs backwards.
All the sound and fury did nothing to change anything, except to position the President on this issue in the mainstream of his own Party. No federal law was proposed. No executive order was signed. The decision about whether same sex couples could legally marry would continue to be left for individual states to decide, just as the question of whether inter-racial couples could marry had been left up to the judgments of individual states until the Supreme Court’s 1967 landmark decision in Loving v. Virginia.
Remembering the extent and viciousness of national racial discrimination in the 1960‘s is chilling. [Here] Equally chilling, but finally inspiring, is reviewing the specific facts in the Loving case. [Here] Mildred Jeter Loving (1939-2008), of African-American and Indian descent, and Richard Loving, a white male (1933-1975), were residents of Virginia when they fell in love. They moved to Washington, D.C. to marry and to escape Virginia’s laws banning any mixed racial marriage. They moved back to their home village after their wedding where they were arrested by a group of police officers who caught the couple sleeping in their bed although they had hoped to find the interracial couple having sex (yet another crime in Virginia.)
The couple was found guilty under Virginia law which forbade an interracial couple leaving the state to marry and then returning to live. The Lovings were sentenced to one year in prison with the sentence suspended for 25 years under the condition that the couple leave the state of Virginia.
The trial judge, Leon Bazile, made a kind of racist history when he declared from the bench: [Here]
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.
(Doesn’t this religious rhetoric sound familiar? Can’t you hear Rick Santorum’s voice echoing, “It’s not the way it’s supposed to be.”)
The Lovings obeyed the judge’s sentence and moved out of Virginia and into the District of Columbia. Four year later the American Civil Liberties Union picked up their cause and carried it to the Supreme Court. Along the way, the Presbyterian Church and the Universalist Church declared their support for the Lovings and interracial marriages. It’s also good to note that shortly before the Supreme Court took up the case, the Roman Catholic Church joined these mainstream Protestant churches in support of interracial marriages. [Here]
The Lovings were extremely fortunate that their case was heard by the intelligent and liberal Warren Court with associate justices Hugo Black, Abe Fortas, William Brennan, William C. Douglas, Thurgood Marshall, Bryon White, John Marshall Harlan and Potter Stewart, who also wrote a concurring opinion. (Warren, Black, Brennan, Douglas, and Harlan had also sat on the court in the 1954 landmark school desegregation case, Brown v. Bd. of Education, in which Marshall had argued for the plaintiff.)
The Lovings won their case in a unanimous decision which declared Virginia’s anti-miscegenation act unconstitutional and which ended throughout the country all race-based laws that barred marriages. The court’s decision was based on the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The language of Loving still reverberates. Here is the decision in part... [Here]
Marriage is one of the "basic civil rights of man," fundamental to our very existence and survival.... 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.
Tom and Mildred Loving moved back to their home in Central Point, Virginia, where they had grown up, met, fallen in love and married. They raised their three children in the same quiet, modest rural community. Unfortunately, Tom died in 1975 from injuries incurred in a car accident. Mildred continued to live in that small Virginia village, sustained by the memory of her love for Tom and surrounded by her children and grandchildren. She died quietly of pneumonia in 2008.
The year before she died, Mildred Loving issued a statement on the 40th anniversary of Loving v. Virginia. It said in part: [Here]
...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.
Amen. Mildred and Tom Loving, rest in peace. We thank you...