Monday, June 18, 2007

Why you should remember Mildred.

A lot of readers probably won’t recognize the name Mildred Loving. But her’s is a critical story in the history of American law. And it was 40 years ago that her story became a major issue in the courts.

Mildred was born, raised and lived in Virginia. And that is where she fell in love with soon to be husband, Richard. The couple went up to Washington to marry. But as she puts it, that wasn’t her choice. They married in the capitol because they could. In Virginia it was against state law for her and Richard to become husband and wife. She is black and Richard, now deceased, was white.

But they married legally and they had the marriage certificate to prove it. The in very late one night the couple found themselves being awakened by the local police. Mildred and Richard Loving were under arrest. As Mildred put it they were “arrested for the ‘crime’ of marrying the wrong kind of person.”

But Virginia refused to recognize legal interracial marriages from other states -- something a lot of conservatives would like to return to. So Richard and Mildred were put on trial for their relationship. The judge was quite clear. Tradition was against interracial marriage. The law was clearly against interracial marriage and even God was against interracial marriage.

With the majority of the population on his side, along with God, the law and tradition the judge sentenced the couple to prison. But he made them an offer. He would let them go free if they packed their things and left the state of Virginia never to return for a minimum of 25 years. Their sentence for the crime of marrying would be exile from their home.

The couple reluctantly left but they took the matter to the courts. And then on June 12, 1967 the US Supreme Court ruled unanimously that: “The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.” As Mildred put it, she wasn’t fighting for a cause. She was fighting for the man she loved.

For the anniversary of that ruling Mildred Loving, now approaching 70 years of age, issued a statement:
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.

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