Mildred Loving, RIP

Mildred Loving, the African-American wife of Richard Loving, part of the landmark 1967 Loving vs Virginia case that permitted interracial marriage in America, has died. The overwhelming majority of Americans supported bans on Interracial Marriage at the time, so similarities to the current debate on Gay Marriage apply.

Without this case and this Supreme Court decision, then it would be illegal for Mike and Susan Schroeder to be married.  It would be illegal for Shawn and Michelle Steel to marry.  And Janet Nguyen’s marriage would be null and void.

Last June, on the 40th anniversary of the case, she issued a statement which contains a comment pertaining to the Gay Marriage debate.  It’s posted after the flip.

Loving for AllBy Mildred Loving

Prepared for Delivery on June 12, 2007,
The 40th Anniversary of the Loving vs. Virginia Announcement

When my late husband, Richard, and I got married in Washington, DC in 1958, it wasn’t to make a political statement or start a fight. We were in love, and we wanted to be married.

We didn’t get married in Washington because we wanted to marry there. We did it there because the government wouldn’t allow us to marry back home in Virginia where we grew up, where we met, where we fell in love, and where we wanted to be together and build our family. You see, I am a woman of color and Richard was white, and at that time people believed it was okay to keep us from marrying because of their ideas of who should marry whom.

When Richard and I came back to our home in Virginia, happily married, we had no intention of battling over the law. We made a commitment to each other in our love and lives, and now had the legal commitment, called marriage, to match. Isn’t that what marriage is?

Not long after our wedding, we were awakened in the middle of the night in our own bedroom by deputy sheriffs and actually arrested for the “crime” of marrying the wrong kind of person. Our marriage certificate was hanging on the wall above the bed. The state prosecuted Richard and me, and after we were found guilty, the judge declared: “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.” He sentenced us to a year in prison, but offered to suspend the sentence if we left our home in Virginia for 25 years exile.

We left, and got a lawyer. Richard and I had to fight, but still were not fighting for a cause. We were fighting for our love.

Though it turned out we had to fight, happily Richard and I didn’t have to fight alone. Thanks to groups like the ACLU and the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund, and so many good people around the country willing to speak up, we took our case for the freedom to marry all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. And on June 12, 1967, the 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,” a “basic civil right.”

My generation was bitterly divided over something that should have been so clear and right. The majority believed that what the judge said, that it was God’s plan to keep people apart, and that government should discriminate against people in love. But I have lived long enough now to see big changes. The older generation’s fears and prejudices have given way, and today’s young people realize that if someone loves someone they have a right to marry.

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.

  2 comments for “Mildred Loving, RIP

  1. May 6, 2008 at 11:43 am

    Add Jubal and the lovely Mrs. Jubal to that list, as well as the parents of Barack Obama and many other fine people.

    My father’s stepmother, Nell, was an intelligent and kind woman who had a number of friends of other ethnicities. I wouldn’t have called her a bigot by any means, though to say she was set in her ways was an understatement.

    My grandfather was retired from the Army and had base privileges, and when we visited, Nell would sometimes take me and my mother to the commissary. I remember a trip in the 60s when Nell spied a mixed race couple on base and became apoplectic. She hissed something to my mother about the horror of it, and how “neither society would ever accept this couple nor their children.”

    I think my mother was too shocked to respond and I was too young to do anything but take it all in. Which I certainly did, since I still recall it quite clearly more than 45 years later — one of those accidental snapshots one remembers forever while discarding thousands of other events that failed to make an impression.

    Nell was cordial to and accepting of people of color, her acceptance didn’t extend to miscegenation. OTOH, she never accepted gays at all — even her own stepson, my uncle.

    I’m glad that interracial marriages are now accepted by all but the most intransigent of bigots. One day we’ll be able to say the same about same-sex marriages, too.

  2. Dan Chmielewski
    May 6, 2008 at 12:22 pm

    Gila —
    Thanks for pointing out the Jubals; I actually had to struggle to think of interracial couples and can’t remember Janet’s husband’s last name, though I should because he’s Polish like me.

    Great story too!

Comments are closed.