Thursday, February 26, 2009

Mildred and Richard Loving

Fifty years ago it wasn't gay marriage, it was interracial marriage.

Mildred Jeter Loving and Richard Perry Loving were married in June of 1958 in the District of Columbia; they'd gotten married in DC because they couldn't get married in Virginia due to that state's Racial Integrity Act--a law banning marriages between any white person and any non-white person.

Oh yeah, Mildred was a Black woman; Richard was a white man.

After marrying, they returned to Carolina County, Virginia and were charged with violating the ban. See, Mildred and Richard Loving were asleep in their own bed when their house was invaded by police officers who hoped to find them having sex--which was an altogether different crime.

Mildred Loving pointed to the marriage certificate on the wall in their bedroom. The police, rather than seeing they weren't committing some kind of interracial sex crime, used the certificate as evidence for a criminal charge since it showed they had been married in another state.

The Lovings were charged under Section 20-58 of the Virginia Code, which prohibited interracial couples from being married out of state and then returning to Virginia, and Section 20-59, which classified "miscegenation" (a mixture of races especially marriage, cohabitation, or sexual intercourse between a white person and a member of another race ) as a felony punishable by a prison sentence of up to five years.

On January 6, 1959, the Lovings pleaded guilty and were sentenced to one year in prison, with the sentence suspended for 25 years on condition that the couple leave the state of Virginia.

The Lovings were being run out of town because of who they loved.

Sound familiar?

The trial judge in the case, Leon Bazile, said: “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.”

Using God as a way to keep people from marrying? Sound familiar now?

Mildred and Richard Loving moved to the District of Columbia, and in November of 1963 The ACLU filed a motion to vacate the judgement and set aside the sentence because it ran counter to the 14th Amendment--equal protection under the law.

The case ultimately reached the Supreme Court and, in October of 1964, after their motion was still undecided, the Lovings began a class action suit in the U.S District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

In early 1965, the three-judge district court decided to allow the Lovings to present their constitutional claims to the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. Virginia Supreme Court Justice Harry Carrico wrote an opinion for the court upholding the constitutionality of the anti-miscegenation statutes and, after modifying the sentence, affirmed the criminal convictions. Carrico said the 14th Amendment didn't aplply to the Lovings case because both the white and the non-white spouse were punished equally for the "crime" of "miscegenation."

The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the convictions in a unanimous decision, dismissing the Commonwealth of Virginia's argument that a law forbidding both white and black persons from marrying persons of another race, and providing identical penalties to white and black violators, could not be construed as racially discriminatory.

In its decision, the court wrote: “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. 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.”

Some activists believe that the Loving ruling will eventually aid the marriage equality movement for same-sex partnerships, if courts allow the Equal Protection Clause to be used. Law professor F.C. Decoste states, "If the only arguments against same sex marriage are sectarian, then opposing the legalization of same sex marriage is invidious in a fashion no different from supporting anti miscegenation laws."

These activists maintain that miscegenation laws are to interracial marriage, as sodomy laws are to homosexual rights and that sodomy laws were enacted in order to maintain traditional sex roles that have become part of American society.

Richard Loving died in a car accident in 1975.

On June 12, 2007, Mildred Loving issued a rare public statement, which commented on same-sex marriage, prepared for delivery on the 40th anniversary of the Loving v. Virginia decision of the US Supreme Court. She said, in part:

“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.”

Mildred Loving died of pneumonia on May 2, 2008. Her daughter, Peggy Fortune, told the AP: "I want (people) to remember her as being strong and brave yet humble — and believed in love."

Part of the Washington Post’s obituary read: “A modest homemaker, Loving never thought she had done anything extraordinary. ‘It wasn't my doing,’ Loving told the AP in a rare interview a year ago. ‘It was God's work.’"


Berry Blog said...

This is a wonderful find Bob. You never cease to amaze me with your research and loving attention to the cause. You are the best.
Yes, I am waiting for the Top Chef recap too. Judging contestants on the basis of each event is a tough standard. I so love Carla. I get a kick out of the Bromance of Hosea and Stefan.

Bob said...

This story has so many parallels to what is going on with gay marriage, and then to read Mildred Loving's words about the struggle.
The Lovings really paved the way for a lot of people

Joy said...

There was a movie about them, Mr. and Mrs. Loving. I think there's a YouTube with her speaking at the 40th anniversary of the case.

Definitely parallels there which gives hope.