Crossposted from MY LEFT WING

Mildred Loving, 68:
Her landmark case made
interracial marriage legal

Mildred Loving and her husband, Richard,
shown in 1965,
had been forced to leave Virginia,
where their union was prohibited by law.

Awakening to news of the virtual certainty of Barack Obama’s becoming the Democratic Presidential nominee on the same morning as to news of the death of Mildred Loving (1939 – 2008), I felt… conflicted.

For marrying the only man she ever loved, Mildred Loving paid a price: She was arrested, convicted and banished from her home state.

In the 1950s, the Commonwealth of Virginia handed down such punishments to couples whose love the state did not sanction: She was black. Her husband, Richard, was white. Their union was prohibited by law.

. . . the Lovings’ challenge of the law led to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1967 that toppled bans on interracial marriages nationwide and opened the door for mixed race couples to marry without prosecution.

. . .

Laws supporting segregation were falling; but in 1958, when the Lovings were arrested, half of the states in the nation still had anti-miscegenation laws on the books, said Peter Wallenstein, a professor of history at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Va. The laws deprived Americans of the most intimate of decisions: who would be their spouse.

In Virginia’s Caroline County, where Mildred Jeter was born July 22, 1939, the prohibition against interracial marriage was long-standing. A 1691 statute outlawed marriage between whites and non-whites.

An 1878 law introduced a penalty of up to five years in prison and a clause: Those who tried to evade the law by marrying out of state, then returning to Virginia, would be treated the same as those who had married in the state.

The Lovings had done just that. In 1958, the couple drove to Washington, D.C., married on June 2, then returned to Caroline County, where they moved in with Loving’s parents.

But in Caroline County word spread to the commonwealth’s attorney, the equivalent of a district attorney, that the two had married. He obtained a warrant for their arrests. One July night, the Lovings woke up about 2 a.m. to the see the sheriff and deputies surrounding their bed, shining flashlights and demanding to know who Mildred Loving was.

. . . Richard Loving rushed to show the men their marriage certificate. The sheriff was not moved. “That’s no good here,” he said.

. . .

The Lovings were indicted by a county grand jury and pleaded guilty to violating the 1924 Racial Integrity Act . . . [and were] sentenced . . . to a year in jail but [Judge Leon M. Bazile] suspended the sentence for 25 years on the condition that they leave the state and not return together during that time.

. . .

Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote in the opinion that 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 racial classification embodied in these statutes . . . is surely to deprive all the state’s citizens of liberty without due process of law.”

So on this day, many of us justifiably celebrate another inestimably important milestone on our journey toward a more perfect union, in the form of a black man ascending to what must be regarded as the penultimate pinnacle of American success and power. I am, however, unable to separate it from the preternaturally well-timed reminder of that other hugely important milestone, brought about by a black woman’s influence on the equally powerful institution of the Supreme Court of the United States in its 9-0 decision in favour of Loving versus Virginia.

With that decision in 1967, yet another cornerstone of American institutionalised bigotry crumbled, paving the way for Senator Barack Obama to become a major political party’s first black nominee and possibly the first black American President in history.

The irony should be unmistakable, and I wonder how many other Americans noted it as they digested today’s two related tales of barriers broken: A black man has attained a position in American life that might never have been possible but for  a Supreme Court decision that declared unConstitutional (and immoral) any law that barred a person from marrying any person whom society’s existing standards and beliefs proscripted from such unions…

… but that very man has repeatedly voiced the opinion that gay marriage is not a Constitutional right and ought not be federally legalised.

“Tell the truth,” Obama proclaimed in his speech last night. Indeed. I want to know something, Senator: Are you telling the truth when you declare that marriage must be the exclusive province of heterosexuals? Are you telling the truth when you declare that you believe civil unions (certainly separate and just as certainly NOT equal) actually ARE equal? And if you’re not telling the truth, then are you not just as guilty of pandering and appeasement of bigots as any other politician in Washington?

The laws deprived Americans of the most intimate of decisions: who would be their spouse.


I hesitate even to bring up this issue. Barack Obama’s Presidential campaign already faces the irrefutable (albeit lamentable and shameful) existence of racism and bigotry in the electorate, evinced not only by polls and voting trends but by the mere necessity of even taking such polls in the first place. (Many might argue that they are not necessary, but the results speak for themselves: race and racism are factors in this campaign, and to deny it would be sheer folly.) Despite the fact that the existence of widespread bigotry regarding gay marriage is also irrefutable (and equally lamentable and shameful — and just as deeply institutionalised as the bigotry of anti-miscegenation laws ever was), injecting the “gay marriage issue” into the national dialogue at this juncture would not only force Obama back into his untenable (and unconscionable) “separate but equal” civil union stance; it would likely destroy the chance of a Democratic presidency and congressional majority in November.

So I’ll hold my tongue for now… but not for long. Come January 21st, gay marriage rejoins the Iraq war, environmental reform, the economy and healthcare on my list of Major Issues. Frankly, I’m ashamed and disgusted to be a member of a party, let alone a country, that doesn’t have the courage and wisdom to say and do the right thing, right now.

To borrow the words of a certain radical, wild-eyed, fiery African American preacher:

“A right delayed is a right denied.”
0 0 votes
Article Rating