Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Another memorial

Imagine that you were a woman in Virginia in the 1950s and you were lucky enough to find the guy you wanted to spend the rest of your life with. And imagine he felt the same way, so you got married. And then a couple of weeks later, while you were home asleep, the local sheriff and some deputies pounded on your door and arrested both of you because you happened to be African-American and your husband happened to be white.

That's what happened to Mildred Loving in 1958. She and her then-fiance had gone to Washington, D.C. to get married, since Virginia law didn't permit it. But Virginia had what was called a Racial Integrity Act which prohibited marriages between members of different races and refused to recognize otherwise valid marriages between interracial couples even if they were performed in another state. The Lovings got suspended jail sentences and left Virginia; their plea agreements required them to leave the commonwealth of Virginia and not return for twenty-five years. Later on, the Lovings came to miss their home state and decided to return. Inspired by the hope of the civil rights movement, they decided to fight Virginia's statute. There were a number of legal issues (what you'd call "technicalities") and when their lawyers tried to explain some of the legal theories to the Lovings, Mr. Loving said, "[T]ell the court I love my wife, and it is just unfair that I can’t live with her in Virginia.”

The Lovings prevailed; in 1967, the Supreme Court struck down the so-called "miscegenation" laws that prohibited interracial marriages. What was at stake wasn't just recognition by the government; it was also issues like inheritance, legitimacy, and death benefits. Laws like the Virginia one made interracial marriages void, meaning it was as if they never took place, and thus prevented children from inheriting by considering them illegitimate, and so on.

Mrs. Loving died this week. She was one of those ordinary Americans who rises to a challenge and perhaps unexpectedly finds that she's changed our country. A year ago, Mrs. Loving issued a statement on the 40th anniversary of the Loving v. Virginia decision urging states to allow gays and lesbians to marry.

In a brutal touch of irony, I read in the paper today that the Pennsylvania Senate may vote this week on an amendment to the state constitution outlawing gay marriage and civil unions. It's hard for me to understand why Mr. Loving's poignant question doesn't apply to gays and lesbians as well: if you love your spouse, isn't unfair for the state to stop you from living together as a married couple?

Rest in peace, Mrs. Loving. I hope your legacy lives on.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your wonderful!! insight into Mrs. Loving - I'd not know of her. Besides your gorgeous fibers, your writings on your personal viewpoints touch me. Thanks again for sharing. Terry

mindy said...

Thank you. I get so irritated with these laws- what does it matter??? If you are willing to commit yourself to someone and honor that committment- ugh, I can't even articulate what I want to say. Stupid laws. Thank you again for posting this- I had no idea.

Courtney said...

Great post, Carol.

Bridget said...

I'm glad you posted about Mildred Loving and her husband (whose last name have always seemed ironic, given their experience).

And the PA Senate hearings are making me crazy - as the whole issue does wherever/whenever it comes up! What is wrong with people wanting legal recognition for their commitment to someone else??

I'll shut up now, 'cause believe me, I could go on ... and on ...

anne marie in philly said...

I was thinking the same thing as I read your post.

and thinking about the gay couples I know who (dare I say) have a more stable and contented relationship than my own.

"live and let love" should rule.

Laurel said...

Adding my thank you. Not only is the story touching, and unfortunately relevant today (I echo the live and let love feeling), but your writing is very eloquent. Thank you for sharing.

suzenew said...

I wanted to add my thanks as well. So often, what seem to be "issues" become so simple when a human face is put on them.

AllyB said...

Thank you for posting this. If not for Mr & Mrs Loving and others like them who came before, my husband and I would not have the liberty of enjoying our lives together. I read a really nice article about them about a year ago. I'm saddened by her passing. May she rest in peace.

Carol said...

Wonderful post. Thank you!

Nell said...

I don't understand how my marriage is threatened by other people being in love. It makes no sense at all.

Joe said...

Oh sure...first it's loving someone of a different race, and then it's a same-sex union...next thing you know people will want to marry their pets.

It's a slippery slope and the divine rite of marriage needs to be vigorously defended.

Next thing you'll write is that love conquers eternal damnation.

Chelette said...

Thanks for sharing, I heard about this only this week and I found it quite interesting because I thought wow I could not believe that was unheard of in 1958. I love her name was LOVING.

travellersyarn said...

Thanks for the non-knitting content Carol - I really like your "opinion pieces".

Anonymous said...

I saw that in the Inquirer today. Wow. And then after all that, her husband was killed by a drunk driver. Ack.
Allison

AuntieAnn said...

I am so sad to hear that Mildred Loving died. If you ever get a chance to listen to the tape set, "May it Please the Court", there is some eloquent oral argument from the Loving case excerpted there, which moved me to tears (as did many of the cases, I must admit). My parents were married in California just a few years after the Cal. Su. Ct. ruled that Cal's miscegenation laws were unconstitutional, and now my brother and his husband are fighting for reinstatement of their marriage and against an initiative in Cal. that would amend the Cal. Constitution to discriminate against gays and lesbians, so this is a topic near and dear to me. Thanks for your post today.

amoskin said...

How absolutely wonderful. I loved this post. Your write is so eloquent as well but the content and the amazing impact they had is so inspiring. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Great post; I appreciate the information on the Lovings. I've always thought the laws against gay marriage were like the laws against interracial marriage. I don't understand why people feel so threatened by it.
Regards from the Jersey Shore,
Anne