Mildred Jeter, a black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, were married in June of 1958. Both parties were residents of Virginia, yet their union took place in Washington, D.C. Why? Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924. Miscegenation – the mixing of different racial groups through marriage, cohabitation, sexual relations, or procreation – was illegal. It was a federal crime punishable by a prison sentence of one to five years.
**In 1924, SB 219 (Racial Integrity Act) passed in the Virginia Assembly. The Racial Integrity Act essentially divided society into two categories: white and colored. Colored, naturally, included any person…not white. Race was classified under the “one-drop rule”. This rule stated that one was to be classified as colored if they had “one drop of Negro blood”. That same year, SB 281 (“Sterilization Act”) also passed the Virginia Assembly. It is pretty self-evident what the “Sterilization Act” was designed for. Forced sterilization. According to this ACLU of Virginia article; “It is estimated that between 7,200 and 8,300 people were sterilized in Virginia from 1927 to 1979 because they were deemed by society at the time to be unworthy or unfit to procreate.” Of those sterilized, approximately 22% were black, 2/3 were women, and many were not even informed that they were being sterilized. Both Acts were a part of a grand scheme to “preserve America as a white nation”.
Upon returning to their home in Central Point, Virginia; the couple’s residence was raided in the middle of the night. They were arrested and charged with cohabitation as man and wife. The sentence was suspended, with the condition that the couple leave Virginia. In 1964, the frustrated wife petitioned Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, who referred her to the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU filed a series of motions on the Loving’s behalf, which placed them squarely on a path that ended at the doors of the Supreme Court.
The Lovings, themselves, did not attend the hearings. Bernard S. Cohen, attorney for the couple, relayed a heart-felt message to the court. “Mr. Cohen, tell the court that I love my wife, and it is unfair that I can’t live with her in Virginia.”
The Loving case was finally heard by the High Court. The unanimous decision (dated June 12, 1967), overturned the convictions. The Court ruled that Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws violated the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
***Why does this matter now, after forty-six years?***
“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”
Chief Justice Earl Warren
Basic civil rights. Basic civil rights are freedoms that are not contingent upon one’s race, or gender, or sexual orientation. It is not acceptable to deny anyone the basic right of love and marriage simply because you disagree with their choices. It is not American. It is not equality.
It Is Wrong!
I, personally, relate to Mildred Jeter Loving. That’s because I am Mildred Jeter Loving. Same state. Same situation. My life, my husband, my family…that I love more than breathing…was at one point illegal. I would have been a felon. And for what? For falling in love, like all humans do? For wanting to marry and raise a family, like all humans do?
For “Loving” someone not of my race?
Same-sex couples are no less human. They are no less loving. They are no less American. They, as free citizens, have the right to choose to marry whomever they wish. These choices – in no way, shape, form, or fashion – negate our country’s obligation to treat them equally under the law.
Of course, I could go into some long, drawn out explanation of why same-sex couples should be “granted” equality under the law. I could wax on, poetically, about why we need to “give in” and allow them the rights of any other married couple. But I won’t. It’s not necessary. The only reason a same-sex couple needs is this: it is their basic civil right.