Mildred Loving passed away Friday, at the age of 68. Mrs. Loving, and her husband Richard, successfully challenged the Commonwealth of Virginia’s legal ban on miscegenation, and won for themselves the right to marry, in 1967.
Her husband, Richard, died in an automobile accident in 1975. They were only legally married for those eight years before Richard Loving died. Richard began to take an interest in Mildred when they were quite young — but they waited until she was eighteen to get married, and they lived in Washington State, where there was no law against interracial marriages, for a few years before returning to Virginia and demanding that Virginia recognize their Washington marriage license. It’s clear from the old file photographs that they loved one another and were as good a couple as any. They had children together, they had a home together, they had a life full of love together.
Today, most Americans do not consider a multi-racial marriage to be particularly remarkable. But while the Lovings today seem remarkable only because they were the plaintiffs in a landmark Supreme Court case, it would be easy to give all the credit to the lawyers and judges who handled that decision. But let’s not take anything away from the Lovings themselves; it was not always so unremarkable that people of different races could fall in love and marry. They lived in rural Virginia in the 1950’s and 1960’s when they fell in love, courted, and married. In order to be with one another, they must have faced many challenges, whether in the form of probably endurable sidelong glances and social shunning by their friends and family, all the way to the very real threats of imprisonment (which resulted in a two-year exile from their homes to avoid prosecution) and the all-too-easy-to-imagine threats of violence at the hands of their ignorant, predjucided neighbors. And it’s always intimidating standing against the government, no matter how plainly wrong the government might seem to be.
For being willing to stand up to all of that, the Lovings get this irregular installment of the Big Brass Ones Award.
Not quite a year ago, on the fortieth anniversary of their landmark decision, Mildred Loving wrote of her experience with the legal system and its relevance to the world today:
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.
I think it’s particularly interesting that she remembers that the miscegenation law in Virginia was justified by religious belief. Maybe it was.
And it’s also worth remembering that their struggle is not yet over. It is still the case that some peoples’ religious prejudices are enshrined in law and prevent Americans who love one another from getting married. That needs to come to an end; the struggle of gay Americans to marry today is no different from that of the Lovings a generation ago.